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Rich Problem-Solving Challenges for Virtual Students

Chris Meyer
Past-President, OAPT

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...

This Is Why…

Joanne O’Meara, Professor, Department of Physics, University of Guelph

When people think about what physicists do, they often jump directly to the esoteric, like quarks or globular clusters, and don’t necessarily see the myriad connections of physics to our everyday experiences. I’m not criticizing those among us devoted to the esoteric, but I do worry that we are missing out on inspiring and engaging with a large fraction of the science-curious by not taking the time to explore some of the fascinating physics on display in the natural world. As physicists, we are practiced at the art of asking ourselves Why? when we observe something beautiful, unusual, or unexpected, and the feeling that comes from figuring out the answer is what keeps us exploring. I love being able to bring these little explorations into my classroom, especially when I’m teaching first-year physics to biological science students, as helping them to see the relevance of what they are learning can have a profound effect on their motivation. From the beauty of a double rainbow, to penguins using bubbles to reduce drag, or the effect of polarization of scattered light on flies looking for someone/thing to bite, I love that look of wonder and appreciation on my students’ faces when we take a short tangent to extend our learning in optics or mechanics. Read More...

Physics for Penguins: A Project for Grade 10 Science

Robert Prior, ePublisher of OAPT Newsletter

The grade ten climate unit is often neglected. This is unfortunate, not only because it is the most relevant unit for our students, who will be dealing with a changing climate, but because it deals with many physics concepts.

Here is a project I use with my grade ten students. It’s a fun, hands-on way for students to demonstrate that they understand basic concepts relating to thermal energy and energy transfer — key topics in grade 11 physics! Read More...

Red-Hot Steel vs. Frozen Lake: A Real-World Energy Problem

Robert Prior, ePublisher of OAPT Newsletter

What happens when you heat a 20 kg cylinder of steel red-hot, and put it on a frozen lake? This may look like a silly question, but Lauri and Anni Vuohensilta — the crazy Finns of Beyond the Press — did it, and it makes a nice guided inquiry activity for exploring energy transfer in the grade 11 physics. Read More...

Newton’s Cradle of Confusion

Timothy Sibbald, OCT, associate professor, Schulich School of Education, Nipissing University, North Bay.

Tiberiu Veres, teacher candidate, Schulich School of Education, Nipissing University, North Bay.

Michael Anderson, teacher candidate, Schulich School of Education, Nipissing University, North Bay.

Newton’s cradle is a classic physics ‘toy’ that is interpreted as showing the conservation of energy and momentum. In some respects it is too good at what it does. Students see predictability in the action that takes place and may not be driven to consider it more deeply. In essence, the instructional problem is that the cognitive dissonance that it causes can be explained fairly readily as conservation of momentum. However, like so many elements of physics, if it is tackled in the right way the richness of Newton’s cradle can be revealed.

Build an Arcade Game — A STEM Project

Nassi Rafiee, teacher Toronto DSB

Many grade 12 physics students plan to pursuit engineering in their post-secondary studies. Surprisingly, many lack a clear idea about the required skillset and what to expect in their next 4 years of education.

Last year I came up with the idea of having students design a mechanical pinball machine that demonstrates the mechanics concepts in grade 12. It was originally intended to focus on team building, engineering design process, physics calculations and writing skills, however as soon as I shared the idea with students, they got so excited that they formed their groups immediately and insisted that they wanted to build it too. Read More...

Spring Surprise: Projectile Motion made Fun, Mathematical and Real!

Roberta Tevlin, Editor, OAPT Newsletter
Edited by Tim Langford

Projectile motion often involves a lot of mathematical problem-solving that is overly simplified and highly contrived. Football players do not stop to calculate the range before making a pass. Invading armies might want to make calculations for siege weapons, but these tend to be too complicated (trebuchets) or involve too much energy loss (catapults). Guess and check, was probably the preferred technique. Fortunately there is a cheap and reliable projectile launcher that you can use to show that physics works. Your students will be able to use it to hit a target on their first shot by using calculations for conservation of energy and projectile motion. Read More...

Animating Graphs to Animate Discussions about Electrical Energy

Roberta Tevlin, Teacher at Danforth CTI

One of the biggest problems facing the world right now is how to generate the electricity that we want without destroying the environment. This is a very complicated problem and we are supposed to help our students understand this issue in all four grades in high school: grade 9 Science (Electricity), grade 10 Science (Climate Change), grade 11 Physics (Energy and Society) and grade 12C Physics (Energy Transformations). This summer I found a great tool to help with this. Read More...

Feel the energy: a unified framework for teaching energy

Chris Meyer, OAPT VP teaching and learning, Assistant curriculum leader York Mills C. I.

A model educator
In science, we create models to help us explain our universe and predict what might happen next. Science is a continuous process of creating, expanding, testing and revising models, which are judged by scientists according to their agreement with observations. As educators, we should choose models that have a reasonable agreement with observations, are conceptually clear, and do not create unnecessary hurdles to future, more sophisticated, models. This task is especially challenging with the topic of energy, a concept that is fundamental to physics and all branches of science. Research into the pedagogy of energy has shown that traditional treatments of energy leave much to be desired. Read More...

Energy and Motion Connections in a K’Nex™ Catapult

Margaret Scora, Teacher at Monsignor Paul Dwyer CHS

It is very important to have our students engaged in the classroom in order for deep learning to occur. Your students need opportunities to use their creative spark and build on their 21st century learning skills. Peter Benson’s TED talk does a great job of presenting how important this is.

Ideas for projects proliferate but many of these are time-consuming, expensive and beyond the skills of an average student and the tools of an average physics classroom. However, your students can build a catapult with K’Nex™ in just one class with virtually no prep and no trips to the wood shop.


Diana Hall, Bell High School, Nepean, Ontario

This is a very popular game I have played with my OAC physics class. It incorporates the concepts of conservation of energy and projectile motion. Read More...

Ball and Ramp Races

John Childs, Grenville Christian College, Brockville

This is a good exercise to use after you’ve done kinematics, dynamics, and energy. We all talk about the kinetic and potential energy of roller coasters and their speeds, and the demonstration will let your students apply their critical thinking skills to this kind of situation. Be sure to have your students examine the setup and predict the outcome, before you run the demo. The question is: “Which ball gets to the end of the ramp first?” Read More...

Lasers: A Solution looking for a Problem

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Editor, Teacher Danforth CTI
Edited by Margaret Scora

Lasers are quantum light sources and they are everywhere. But what is quantum about them? The PhET simulation is a great tool to give students a feel for the quantum process called stimulated emission. Read More...

The Thermobile and Icemobile

Peter Levan, Lockerby Composite School, Sudbury

At last year’s conference in Sudbury, Al Hirsch demonstrated his icemobile1 and I mentioned the action of a thermobile1. Some people were interested in more explanation and information on these little toys and the physics behind them. Read More...
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