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How do electrons in a circuit know what to do?

Chris Meyer, Past President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers
chris_meyer1@sympatico.ca

At times electrons can seem awfully clever, as if they talk to one another and plan what each will do: “okay, so you two go along that path and I'll go along this one” or “I'll only give up ¼ of my energy here because the next load has a higher resistance and I need to give it ¾ of my energy”. How do they pull off these amazing feats of collaboration and foresight? For years I was genuinely stumped when trying to explain the rationale behind series and parallel phenomena; my attempts were all variations of “well, because that’s what happens”.

How do electrons “know” that there is another resistor connected in series down the road? How do they “know” which parallel path to choose? For that matter, how does a battery connected to a single resistor “know” how much current to push? There are so many mysteries of simple electric circuits! Let's explore the last question first, which will help us answer all the others. Read More...

May 25, 2022 OAPT (Ontario Association of Physics Teachers) Physics Contest

The annual online physics contest open to ALL Grade 11 and 12 physics students will be occurring on May 25th. The contest is one hour long and is free! The contest will be open to BOTH Grade 11 AND Grade 12 students due to the generous support of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto. All physics teachers are encouraged to have their students enroll. Please remind students that it is intended to be a FUN contest and that it cannot impact their mark so that they do not feel intimidated to participate. Read More...

May the Real Polarization Model, Please Stand Up

Saara Naudts, Peel District School Board
saara.naudts@icloud.com

Inspired by Adam Mills’s recent articles on Shining Light on Grade 10 Optics (see part 1 and part 2), I wanted to extend the spotlight to linear polarization in the grade 12 The Wave Nature of Light unit. When teaching how light gets polarized when passing through a filter, we often see a rope and gate model, where a vertically oriented filter allows vertical vibrations to pass through and a horizontally oriented filter allows horizontal vibrations to pass through. Unfortunately, this model has its shortcomings. 

Over a decade ago, OAPT past-president, Roberta Tevlin introduced me to an activity during which students act out the process of polarization through a polarizing filter the right way. As an advocate for “learning by doing” and as a supporter of John Dewey’s Experiential Learning Theory (Dewey, 1938), I want to share this simple, yet effective dramatization of linear polarization. I hope you will give it a try with your students and find it to be a meaningful and effective teaching strategy. Read More...

Improving the Teaching of Forces: Cognitive Chunking and Chaining

Chris Meyer, Past President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers
chris_meyer1@sympatico.ca

In my early years of teaching physics, I was often surprised by the difficulties my grade 12 students (actually OAC students at the time!) had with forces. Many times, the sneaky culprit responsible for their troubles was the first law of motion. “Why are they having trouble with such simple grade 11 ideas?” I puzzled, “these are good students”. I have been wrestling with this question for 23 years and now have a better understanding of what I'm trying to accomplish as a teacher and what is happening inside my students’ heads. Let’s explore a better way to train students to think about forces. Read More...

Monthly Star Gazing Guide

Orbax, Production Specialist for Physics Education Content, Department of Physics, University of Guelph
orbax@uoguelph.ca

Greetings everyone! Orbax here. For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been a member of the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph as an instructor for over 13 years now, and most recently as a production specialist in physics education content. Just like you, I love physics and I love teaching physics. I remember when I was young laying in my parents’ bed and poring through a book my father had from his university class on astronomy. I had very little understanding of what I was looking at in those pictures but I knew that the fantastic images in front of me showed a universe that laid just beyond the clouds, one that captured my imagination and that sent me down a path to becoming a physicist.

Since then my career has taken me to many places but I have never lost the fascination I’ve always held for outer space. I feel there are few things more galvanizing to scientists and interesting to the population as a whole than space exploration. As such, I’ve started a video series of monthly ‘Star Gazing Guides’. Very much in the tradition of the old Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer series (does anyone else remember those?), we take a look around the night sky for upcoming events of interest. The videos are very much aimed at the general population with little or no astronomy experience, but as a physics teacher, I try to use a portion of the video to slyly backdoor some actual physics education content. We talk about wavelengths of light, rotational axes, basic planetary interactions, and try to explain things like the solstice or an eclipse. Read More...

Review: How Far Away Is It?

Robert Prior, ePublisher OAPT Newsletter
science@robertprior.ca

There’s a lot of good physics (and math) embedded in the grade nine space unit, if you know where to look for it. David Butler is a retired computer scientist who is fascinated with space, and he’s applied his mathematical background to explaining, in simple terms, what’s behind the fancy pictures we see from NASA, and how we know what we know about the universe. To do this he’s created a series of video books focusing on different topics, as well as hundreds of short classroom-ready video clips on topics ranging from astronomy to quantum mechanics. Read More...

Rich Problem-Solving Challenges for Virtual Students

Chris Meyer
Past-President, OAPT
Chris_meyer1@sympatico.ca

Are you looking for exciting tasks for your students now that we have made the sudden switch to virtual teaching? You have come to the right place! A staple of our grade 12 physics classes is our physics challenges: cooperative-group problem-solving tasks that involve a physical apparatus, measurements, a prediction, and an experimental confirmation. One of my COVID projects has been making careful videos of these challenges that allow students to understand the problem and make measurements directly from the video. A separate solution video allows students to experimentally verify their predictions. Normally, I would write a long-winded, exhaustive article about the pedagogical design of the challenge process, but not this time! Instead, this will be a quick article so I can share these with you as quickly as possible! Looking for an engaging and rich task to wrap up your physics course with? Read on! Read More...

Arithmetic Questions in Brightspace Quizzes

Eric Haller, Editor-in-Chief of the OAPT Newsletter, Secondary Long Term Occasional Teacher with the Peel District School Board
eric.haller@peelsb.com

With the switch to online and hybrid learning, we have had to migrate much of what we do in class to an online environment for the students working from home. Many boards have opted to use Brightspace for their virtual learning environments, and that’s what I use to post my announcements, synchronous meeting links, lesson notes, calendars, grades, assignments, rubrics, and so on. Students can find and submit their assignments to me using the Assignments tab. The Rubric tool allows me to create and share rubrics with my classes, making marking, exporting marks to the Grades section, and returning feedback, all extremely quick and easy. Brightspace streamlines this so well that I no longer accept hardcopy or emailed submissions. In conversations with my coworkers about the features in Brightspace that we use, I was surprised to learn that many of my peers were not comfortable using Brightspace to give tests. I still regularly see my colleagues administer pen-and-paper tests in their hybrid classes. Students attending school in-person write the test in the traditional way, and students at home typically print out a .pdf of the test, write on it in pencil, and scan and send it back to the teacher. Tech savvy students might just write directly onto the .pdf using a tablet instead. While this method works for many teachers, I find that it creates numerous problems. Since we can’t really proctor students writing the test online, they can use their notes, the internet, and even call their friends for help without our knowledge. They can even take extra time and email their responses in late, claiming their Wi-Fi is slow or using some other excuse. Students who write the test in-person will be at a significant disadvantage compared to their online counterparts, and so some will decide to stay home on test days to write the test online, which creates attendance issues. Furthermore, marking both hard and soft copy tests can take a lot of extra time compared to just marking one type of test. To avoid these problems, I have students write my tests in Brightspace by using the Quizzes tool. Read More...
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