.boxed { border: 1px solid green ; }

It’s OK to be an OK teacher in 2020

Brad Dixon, Science & Math Teacher, Minor Head of Science
Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute

This year I feel like every time I turn around there is a new social media post, or email from my favourite teaching organization or vendor, introducing or highlighting a new innovative COVID-19-friendly teaching practice. It is great that so many people are reaching out and sharing ideas to help advance us all as a profession.

In any other year, I have enjoyed scrolling through social media to see this sharing, and have utilized many good ideas and resources from those who share. I have always been thankful for those who take the time to share their ideas freely online, and sometimes I even try to contribute my own ideas. However, this year I am finding that seeing this sharing is more stressful than helpful. After some self-reflection I came to the conclusion that I only have the time, energy and mental capacity to be an okay teacher this year. I also decided that I’m okay with that. Read More...

Cooperative Groups for Simultaneous Learning

Chris Meyer, President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers

Our first quadmester of teaching has been filled with many surprises. A big surprise for me was how well cooperative group learning worked in my class — I was quite nervous and doubtful about this! In the end, it allowed my colleague Mike Doig and me to deliver a very rich physics course that used simultaneous learning from day one. In this article, I will share our strategies, which I hope will help you with your teaching. Read on!  Read More...

General Relativity: Beyond the Bowling Ball and the Trampoline

Kelly Foyle (kfoyle@perimeterinstitute.ca), Outreach Scientist, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Philip Freeman (
freeman@sphericalcows.net), Teacher, sd38 (Richmond) Richmond, BC

The authors were inspired to write this article while they worked on Perimeter Institute’s new black hole resource together. To learn more about general relativity and black holes and find ready-to-use, hands-on activities you can do with your class, download the free resource here.

One of the most startling and remarkable discoveries of the 20th century was that gravity is not a mysterious, invisible force. In developing general relativity, Einstein showed that gravity is the curvature of spacetime due to the presence of mass and energy. But what does the “curvature of spacetime” mean? It is hard to get your head around this mind-bending concept! In relativity, space and time are mixed together into “spacetime” and gravity is explained by the curved geometry of this combination. That space and time can be mixed and curved is contradictory to all our everyday experiences. It is a lot for our brains to handle. While physicists can use the equations, even they need to use analogies to build a deep understanding of such counterintuitive concepts.

One common analogy used to introduce general relativity is the idea of a “mass on a rubber sheet” or “bowling ball on a trampoline”. The bending of the surface caused by the mass pulling the sheet down is used to illustrate the curvature of spacetime in general relativity. A rolling marble on the surface follows a curved path, or “orbits” the central mass, giving convincing evidence of the parallel between the sheet and the action of gravity. But there is a problem with this demonstration – it isn’t showing what it claims to show. In this article we argue that this analogy, as used, is fundamentally flawed and creates significant misunderstanding for both students and teachers. We explain where the problems arise, and how to avoid these problems and still provide a strong visual model and deeper understanding of how general relativity works. Read More...

First Virtual Physics Hour

On Thursday, November 5, 2020 we hosted our first Virtual Physics Hour. We were pleased with the attendance and the flow of the workshop and we plan to do more in the future. Below is a summary of presentations as well as a link to a Google Folder which contains slideshows and information from each presenter.

Adam Mills: Bringing interaction into the virtual world using Pear Deck, Jamboard and Peer Instruction.

Rachelle Frederick: Using observations and communication as a form of assessment and evaluation.

Ashley McCarl Palmer: Hands on Physics at Home

Chris Meyer: Cooperative Group Learning in and out of Cyberspace.

The Google Folder can be found here:

Keep an eye out for our next workshop!

Call for Proposals

As many of you are aware, we will not be hosting our traditional face-to-face conference this year; however, we will be offering Virtual Physics Hours on a monthly basis! These Virtual Physics Hours will take place in early December, February, March, April and May during the evenings.

We are currently accepting proposals for sessions at a variety of time lengths to be delivered via Zoom during these Virtual Physics Hours. The deadline for proposals is Tuesday, November 24, 2020. If you have something you would like to present please fill out the Google Form.

Looking forward to your proposals,

How to Use a Green Screen for Teaching

Steven Fotheringham, Halton District School Board

In August 2020, rather than to try to simultaneously juggle both the teaching of students online as well as face-to-face, I decided to focus my efforts on doing online teaching exclusively for the school year. It seemed like a better idea than the alternative, as our school board (HDSB) has expected teachers to teach to students online and face-to-face simultaneously.

This seemed like a genuinely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attempt something creative as well as to endeavor to solve the teaching requirement of the foreseeable future.

After months of experimenting with various settings, a solution presented itself that would allow me to superimpose my image onto a screen. This method worked with all video conferencing software such as Brightspace's Virtual Classroom, Google Meet, Zoom, Skype, etc. In this article, I will show you the physical setup of my virtual classroom, as well as the free software used to superimpose my webcam over my virtual blackboard. Read More...

Cognitive Apprenticeship, Problem Solving, and Online Learning

Chris Meyer, President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers

Enter the Workshop
Let's help our students improve their problem-solving abilities by borrowing an educational idea from long ago. There was a time when learning a complex skill or craft involved years of work as an apprentice in the workshop of an expert. Imagine that we are a young apprentice learning the craft of making shoes.

Our first tasks might be very simple: putting the last tacks in a sole; lacing up the shoe; or adding the final polish. As our skills develop, we are given more complex and challenging tasks and construct more of the shoe until eventually we make our own from start to finish. There are two features of this mode of learning that are useful to emulate in our physics classes: the tasks given to the apprentice are usually meaningful because they help the expert and are important to the success of the workshop as an enterprise; and the apprentice receives rich continuous feedback that is mostly self-generated because she is able to compare her work against that of more experienced people. Read More...

Review: The PocketLab Voyager Bluetooth Sensor

Robert Prior, teacher at Agincourt CI

For years we’ve used computer-connected sensors to do physics. They can be extremely useful, but are expensive and require computers (which in my school are a limited resource). I discovered a pair of cool projects on Kickstarter that solve these problems: the PocketLab Voyager and PocketLab Air, made by Myriad Sensors. I just received my PocketLab Air, so in this article I’ll describe the PocketLab Voyager. Read More...

The Effects of the COVID-19 Shutdown on Graduating Grade 12 Students’ Physics Studies

Chris Meyer, President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers

High schools were shut down this past spring [2020] due to the pandemic, causing learning to move online for the final three months of the school year. What effect has this had on the learning of our grade 12 students who have now graduated and are entering university this fall? I have been working with the U of T Engineering Outreach Office to try to answer this question. This spring, they created an online Engineering Academy to help grade 12 students improve their skills prior to starting their first-year courses. I was involved with the physics component of this Academy and surveyed the students to find out more about their COVID-19 learning experiences. The Academy was free to any student who accepted admission to U of T Engineering and many of the incoming students took advantage and signed up. Read More...

The Science of Group Work

Chris Meyer
President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers
Hybrid Teacher-Coach for Science, Toronto District School Board

Who really likes group work? You know, like when your admin groups the staff at meetings to work on exciting, meaningful tasks? Many students grumble and resent group work, some of them knowing that they will have to pull the full weight of their team. There is a good chance that you did totally fine at school without much meaningful group work, so why bother, right? The reality is that group work is often organized poorly or haphazardly, making for an unsatisfying experience. However, when done well, group work is the most effective learning environment for the vast majority of students. Education research has compared the learning outcomes of many different learning environments and the ones that consistently come out on top are those that deeply integrate group learning. If you haven’t been a fan of group work in the past, I encourage you to read on! We will explore how the brain works, how group work helps it, and share some tips that will hopefully encourage you to look at group work in a new light. Read More...

Demonstrating Diversity in Physics Content Videos

Roberta Tevlin, teacher at Danforth CTI

I like to use videos that are just a few minutes long in my classes. I use them to supplement the hands-on activities and show physics that is too dangerous, difficult or expensive to do in the classroom. However, I recently noticed that almost all of the videos I use are hosted by people who are white and male. This reinforces a pervasive stereotype about what sorts of people do physics — which is not a message that I want my students to receive.

I went on a hunt for videos that could change that perception and I have put together a spreadsheet of what I have found so far. Read More...

Increasing the Gender Diversity in Lecture Content

Sara Cormier, Instructional Assistant, McMaster University

At the 2018 OAPT Conference held at IQC, University of Waterloo, I had a very lovely, inspiring conversation with Roberta Tevlin. As a side note, I always have productive chats at the OAPT conference with a variety of people (this is a shameless plug to encourage everyone to register for the 2020 OAPT conference at McMaster. It was during this conversation that we chatted about how to increase the diversity of the examples we share in class. Afterwards Roberta spearheaded the idea to create a resource to share with everyone that compiles diverse examples of physicists. She pulled Michelle Lee, Sara Naudts and me in to help. The resource is really great and well laid out. I am supremely impressed with it (I had only a small contribution in creating the resource) and have used it to increase the diversity in my own teaching which I describe below. To learn more and use this great resource yourself, I encourage you to read another OAPT article (after you finish reading this one, of course), written by Roberta. You are also welcome to use any of the examples I’ve used below. Read More...

Shining the Light on Grade 10 Optics

Adam Mills
Vice President of Teaching and Learning, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers
Department Head of Science, Assumption College Catholic High School

This article is the first in a two-part series surrounding the development of an inquiry-based optics unit for grade 10 Science. The focus of this first article is to provide the reasoning why inquiry-based optics is needed in Science 10 and some of the important ideas that I introduce to help battle the preconceptions students hold.

I taught Science 10 for the first time in a while last year, and I have it again this year (by request). After changing the way I taught Physics 11 and 12 to a more inquiry-based style, I decided to do something similar with Science 10. This in turn led me down a path towards more effectively introducing optics to my students. In speaking with other teachers, I quickly found that the simplicity of the mathematics in the optics unit can often mask serious conceptual difficulties. I began to look at what Physics Education Research had to say about the common conceptual misunderstandings and came across the following series of questions asked by Goldberg and McDermott in their 1987 paper [1].    Read More...
©Ontario Association of Physics Teachers Contact the Newsletter