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Why take part in a Physics Contest?

Shawn Brooks, UTS (University of Toronto Schools)

While they are in high school, I encourage all of my students to try their hand at a physics contest — at least once.

But let us say — hypothetically of course — I have a student “Richard” who does not want to write a physics contest despite being encourage to do so. After this year, it is unlikely that Richard will never get another chance to write a physics contest. And while this is not a great loss to the universe, I wonder if life might be better for Richard if he begins to identify himself as someone who can write a physics contest… if and when he wants to.

Last year, 95 students from my school wrote the Ontario Association of Physics Teachers (OAPT) Grade 11 Physics Contest and that was enough to earn my school top spot in overall student participation. And while, I do not expect as many students from my school to write it this year, I remain hopeful. Students can benefit from the experience of participating in the OAPT contest.

“The OAPT contest is linked directly to SPH3U curriculum. It has questions from the 5 units (Kinematics, Forces, etc.) and is a great review for the exam.”

However, it must always be seen as a voluntary enrichment activity, as like any adjudicated performance, a contest creates anxiety. To help my student cope with this I share the following advice. First, you can choose your level of preparedness. You can simply show up and write it, or you can prepare, if you wish to. It is up to you. Second, if you are not completely satisfied with your results, you do not need to tell anybody your score. Conversely, take pride in your score if you do well (just don’t forget there was some luck involved). Third, the OAPT contest is linked directly to SPH3U curriculum. It has questions from the 5 units (Kinematics, Forces, etc.) and is a great review for the exam. And, any preparation students undertake in preparation for their final exam will counter the effects of anxiety later on.

A noteworthy benefit of the OAPT contest is that teachers have a choice between using computers and using paper. All of the 95 students who wrote the contest at my school last year used a computer. The option to use computers will not be available to my students this year because of scheduling and computer availability. Instead, my students will write the paper version. Having that choice makes the OAPT contest more accessible.

If you are teaching SPH3U, and would like to your students to write the OAPT contest, you should be aware of the following two things:
  • The computer HTML contest file will not be available for download until one week before the contest. (The same goes for the PDF contest file for those who would like to try the paper version.)
  • You and your students can register on the contest website right now — well ahead of the actual contest date. A benefit of the OAPT physics contest is that the previous 9 contests are available for interested students to try — online.

I would like to encourage you to think about offering the OAPT contest to your students this year. It is free. It takes 60 minutes of class time and it might be the last physics contest they ever write!

The contest date is Wednesday May 20th.

Contest information can be found here.

Registration and previous contests can be found here.
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