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Pedagogy

Collaborative Group Problem Solving (Part 1)

Adam Mills, Teacher Assumption College Catholic High School
adam_mills@wecdsb.on.ca

I am going to write a two part series of articles in which I discuss the ideas of Cooperative Group Problem Solving (CGPS) and how I use these in my classroom. In part one of the series the foundation for what CGPS encompasses will be discussed and in part two, I will go into more detail as to how I use it in my classes. These topics were discussed in my presentation at the OAPT conference this year. You can find the slideshow as well as extra resources at http://bit.ly/OAPT2017. Read More...

Physics Camp Summer 2017

Roberta Tevlin, Editor OAPT Newsletter
roberta.tevlin@tdsb.on.ca

Physics camp is back again this summer! It will take place just outside of Sudbury on the gorgeous campus of Laurentian University which has with miles of wooded hiking trails and a lovely lake and beach. It will be led by Chris Meyer, Roberta Tevlin and Greg Macdonald from August 9-11. It is paid for by the Ontario Teachers Federation and is completely free (materials, accommodations, breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks, transportation) as long as you are a member of this union. Registration details will be available soon, but in the meantime you should consider keeping those days available. Why would you want to go to physics camp? Read More...

Assessment is Learning

A Workshop at the OAPT Conference Workshop, Saturday, May 13
Chris Meyer

One of the most frustrating experiences I have had as a teacher is understanding why my students are not improving. I spend a lot of time and energy designing new and hopefully improved lessons for my students. I try to emphasize key details that I know are tricky or problematic for students. I give them careful feedback on their assignments and tests. And yet, my students make the same exasperating mistakes over and over again— they show such little improvement! But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised considering I have never specifically rewarded improvement. Read More...

A Simple Vector Development of Centripetal Acceleration

Dave Doucette, OAPT Vice-President
doucettefamily@sympatico.ca

While teaching uniform circular motion in high school, I struggled with developing the ac = v2/r relationship in an intuitive and cognitively meaningful way. Geometric arguments do not resonate with students. They accept on faith but often with little interest or insight. Here is an approach that may do a better job. Read More...

Scientific Teaching

Keynote Address from the TDSB Eureka! Conference 2017

Chris Meyer, OAPT VP teaching and learning, Assistant Curriculum Leader York Mills C. I.
chris_meyer1@sympatico.ca

When I started learning about the science of teaching, it was with very specific questions in mind like “how can I help my students understand Newton’s Third Law”, or “why do students keep using Δx/Δt for accelerated motion?” As I have explored questions such as these over the years, tantalizing clues have led me away from a specific focus on physics pedagogy towards an examination of how people learn. I discovered that the fields of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and physics education research are offering up pieces of a scientific model of learning that can provide real, practical guidance for teachers. This model is in its infancy, but is a crucial step towards turning teaching into a practical science. In the fullness of time, it should be as revolutionary for teaching as Newton’s Principia was for natural philosophy. Read More...

Good Things Happen in an Affective Classroom

Christine Hudecki, Teacher our Lady of Lourdes Catholic HS
Christine.hudecki@wellingtoncdsb.ca

We were just a couple of weeks into the new semester when one of my students started to teach me and the rest of the class. It was a great moment and upon reflection, I think that the student felt comfortable ‘taking over’ because of a number of changes that have I made in my classroom. These were changes that reflect the theme of this year’s conference, Affective Physics: Harnessing Emotion to Improve Learning. Read More...

The Intersection of Science and Small Contractor House Construction

Dave Gervais, Chair STAO Safety Committee, construction worker

The options for your students that drop out of high school or graduate with high school are very limited. After rolling through the low paying jobs of the service sector, restaurant or retail business, construction work looks pretty good. How do the science and mathematical principles and calculations in construction compare to that taught in our science classes? Read More...

The Power of Quiet

Roberta Tevlin, teacher Danforth CTI, editor OAPT Newsletter roberta.tevlin@tdsb.on.ca

Edited by Tim Langford, Chris Meyer

Physics Education Research has provided solid evidence that lectures may be good at transmitting knowledge but poor at developing understanding and so we should implement student-centred learning in our classrooms. However, Susan Cain, the author of the 2012 best-seller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is very dismissive of the way group learning is replacing lectures. The book’s central premise is that our culture is too strongly slanted in favour of extroverts and they way they work and learn.

At first, the anti-group work message of the book just got my back up. I read it so that I could refute it. Further reflection has made me realise that it provides some important insights and even fits well with this year’s conference theme of Affective Physics. Read More...

Blended Learning in a Large University Classroom

Sara Cormier, Instructional Assistant, McMaster University
cormiesl@mcmaster.ca

The Department of Physics & Astronomy at McMaster University recently redesigned the first-year physics course for the Life Sciences, Physics 1A03. We needed to design a course for a large number (~1800 students per year) who may or may not have taken any physics in high school. For many of these students, Physics 1A03 will be the only university physics course they take. It was essential that we make the course fun and relevant and help instill an appreciation for physics. We needed to create a course that was useful and exciting for students whose predominant interests lie in the life sciences, but also provide enough background physics for those students who may wish to continue in a physics stream. This was a challenge, but September 2016 marked the first anniversary of Physics 1A03 and I think it is now safe to say that we successfully met (or exceeded) our goals. Read More...

Improving Writing and Thinking in Physics: Writing with the 4 Cs

Roberta Tevlin, teacher Danforth CTI, editor OAPT Newsletter roberta.tevlin@tdsb.on.ca
Edited by Tim Langford

Are you getting frustrated reading answers that ramble on and don’t make much sense? Does it look like your students are writing everything they know about the topic in the hope that some part of it answers the question? Writing with the 4 Cs is a teaching technique to improve writing and thinking. Read More...

Simplifying Instructions to Unleash the Power of Memory

by Tim Langford
tim.langford@tdsb.on.ca

Last month I attended a “train the trainer” workshop for TWI: Training Within Industry. Industry is a different world than education. However, as I took in the information that our instructor offered, my mind naturally gravitated to how these lessons apply to what I know best, the teaching of physics. This is a short article that attempts to link one best practice from industry to what you and I do daily in the physics classroom. Read More...

Assessment for Learning: The Check Up

Ryan Thompson, OAPT Treasurer, Physics Teacher Newmarket HS
superryanthompson@gmail.com

When the Growing Success document came out in Ontario, the terms “Assessment as, for and of learning” were introduced. Even after teaching for 13 years, I still have to pause and stare into space as I try to differentiate between the three types. Time dilation is easier than that!

I believe in timely feedback and having direct involvement in each student’s success but I am also managing a schedule that is very limited on time (time dilation again!). As a result, I try to do what I can in the classroom.

This article will be about one technique that helps me reconcile the Growing Success document’s expectations, my own philosophy of teaching and limited time in the school day. This tool is called The Check Up and it helps the teacher get quick feedback about your past lesson. Read More...

Bringing the Wonder of Discovery Back into the Classroom

Christine Hudecki, Teacher Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School
Christine.hudecki@wellingtoncdsb.ca

The grade 11 and 12 physics curriculum, I find, is heavy with concepts and formulas. Every day or every other day a new idea is presented, different formulas introduced and a fresh set of problems need to be solved. One of the reasons I liked science and enjoy teaching science is that it is a ‘doing’ subject. It has the potential to get students out of textbooks and in front of equipment. They can learn skills and exercise their problem solving abilities.

In effort to put more ‘doing’ into the grade 12 Light unit, I looked at the polarization lessons. There are some strange things that happen with polarizing filters and most often I would have the students play with the filters after we learned the concept of polarization. It occurred to me that I should flip this order. Read More...

Introducing an Interdisciplinary Course (IDC) at Your School

Steve Fotheringham, OAPT Exhibit Hall Coordinator, Teacher Oakville Trafalgar High School
fotheringhas@hdsb.ca

Have you ever looked at your schools’ course offerings and noticed that some need is not being met? Perhaps the course selection for your applied-level learner is uninspired or there are no elective courses that encourage students to apply their imagination or creativity. Perhaps, what you are looking for does not exist on the list of courses in Ontario.

I’ve had this thought many times and have since had the privilege of introducing two new courses to my school — “Engineering Design” and “Leadership”. Both made use of the incredibly flexible IDC course code.

The purpose of this article is to share with you a few of the lessons (in no particular order) that I have learned along the way which in turn may help you introduce a new course in your school. Read More...

Affective Physics

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Newsletter Editor, Teacher Danforth CTI
roberta.tevlin@tdsb.on.ca
Edited by Tim Langford

The theme of the 2017 OAPT conference is Affective Physics. This theme signals our recognition that physics teachers need to pay more attention to the emotional domain of learning. There is a growing realization that feelings have a huge influence on student motivation, engagement, deep learning and choice of study. It may also be a key to influencing more women to choose STEM. Read More...

Gender in Ontario Physics Classrooms

John Caranci, Lecturer in Physics and Chemistry Teaching, C.T.L., Ontario Institute for Studies in Education University of Toronto
john.caranci@utoronto.ca

What does the gender balance in high school physics look like in Ontario? According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, 7,590 women earned a grade-12 physics credit in 2005/6 and nine years later there were 9,252. That is a 24% increase! At first glance it looks great. However, the increase for men was close to the same and from 2005 to 2015 the percentage of grade 12 credits in physics earned by women has remained steady at 31 ± 1 %. The good news is that while school population has decreased, the number of physics credits has risen from 23,542 to 25,589. The bad news is that the gender imbalance has not changed. Read More...

Doing a 180 on the issue of cell phones

Christine Hudecki , Teacher Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School
christine.hudecki@wellingtoncdsb.ca

“Phones are a distraction”. “Teens don’t have the self-discipline to have a phone in class”. “It’s best to 100% ban the cell phones from the classroom”.

That was my attitude for many years. Ten years ago when I started teaching high school, there were only 1 or 2 students in each class with a mobile phone. Now it’s 1 or 2 students in each class that do not have a phone. Ten years ago cellular phones could make voice calls and send text messages. Now standard software and free apps enable students to do a wide range of useful activities: take pictures, record voices, capture short videos, set up a calendar, plan/manage their time, set up reminders and alarms, create to-do lists, do math calculations, check current events and of course, snapchat and Instagram their friends. I decided to start my new school year with the goal of frequently integrating the use of smart phones into my grade 10 science and grade 11 physics lessons in meaningful ways. Read More...

Cheap and Safe Solar Observing for Grade 9 Astronomy

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Newsletter Editor, Teacher Danforth CTI
roberta.tevlin@tdsb.on.ca
Edited by Tim Langford

It is difficult to get students to make astronomical observations when you live in a large city with lots of light pollution. However, there is one object that all of your students have seen, but probably not observed carefully — the Sun! I start my grade 9 astronomy unit by having my students observe the shadows formed by Sun. Read More...

PER Corner: Fixing the Gender Imbalance in Physics

Chris Meyer, OAPT VP teaching and learning, Assistant Curriculum Leader York Mills C. I.
chris_meyer1@sympatico.ca

I have a problem in my physics classes: by grade 12, only one third of the class is female. I used to think of this as a fact of life, or something beyond my power to change, but now I am sure that is wrong. Too many girls are missing out on some of the best training in critical thinking available in high school. Research suggests why: girls experience physics education differently than boys do. By understanding these differences, I am modifying my classroom to create an environment that supports girls and encourages their future participation in physics. Read More...

Group Work Tests for Context-Rich Problems

Chris Meyer, OAPT VP Teaching and Learning, Assistant Curriculum Leader York Mills C. I.
Christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

The group work test is an assessment strategy that promotes higher-order thinking skills for solving context-rich problems. With this format, teachers are able to pose challenging, nuanced questions on a test, while providing the support weaker students need to get started and show their understanding. The test begins with a group discussion phase, when students are given a “number-free” version of the problem. This phase allows students to digest the story-like problem, explore solution ideas and alleviate some test anxiety. After ten to fifteen minutes of discussion, students inform the instructor of their readiness for the individual part of the test. What follows next is a pedagogical phase change from lively group discussion to quiet individual work1. The group work test is a natural continuation of the group work in our daily physics classes and helps reinforce the importance of collaboration. This method has met with success at York Mills Collegiate Institute, in Toronto, Ontario, where it has been used consistently for unit tests and the final exam of the grade 12 university preparation physics course. Read More...

REVIEW: Why This is Science not Fiction

Tom Eagan, Teacher St. Thomas Aquinas HS
teagan@smcdsb.ca

I have found a channel called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and it is excellent in so many areas. Generally, I am biased towards talks on physics but this show is entertaining, informative and practical on multiple science levels.  

There are two main parts of the show I use in my classroom and they are Forgotten Superheroes of Science and the Science or Fiction challenge. I would like to share how my use of Science or Fiction has helped me develop authentic scientific inquiry versus memorizing facts for a test. Read More...

Assessment: The Silent Killer of Learning

John Caranci, teacher Faculty of Education University of Toronto
John.caranci@utoronto.ca

Eric Mazur runs the undergraduate physics program at Harvard University. He began on a road to learn how his students learn. He first removed lecture as a teaching option in his undergraduate courses. He developed Peer Instruction as well as a plan to reform education. He uses PBL (problem-based learning), and Peer Instruction, and other engagement pedagogies in his class instead of lecturing. Read More...

Helping Teacher Candidates

John Caranci, teacher Faculty of Education University of Toronto
John.Caranci@utoronto.ca

Usually I brief teacher candidates on what to expect when they go out to practicum. During the discussion I found that the candidates have a different perspective than experienced teachers like us. This year’s candidates have already completed a four-month practicum in November. Their experiences very widely but there were a few threads that I will mention. Read More...

Watch your Language

Tim Langford, Teacher
timlangford08@gmail.com

The problems I mention in this article are not always major, but they seem to have an asymmetrical effect: it is mainly the weaker physics students, in my experience, who are thrown off by confusing or vague terminology or the teacher misspeaking. This anecdotal finding is corroborated by Hammer’s (1989) research with undergraduate physics students. There is also another issue: careless language leads to careless thinking, a type of thinking that will not get the student very far in the study of physics. Read More...

Four Cheers for the Holistic Demo

Gavin Kanowitz, Teacher at AY Jackson SS
gavin.kanowitz@tdsb.on.ca

The ‘Demo’ is one of the most powerful tools that physics teachers have. It can hook the students’ interest right away. If you frame the demo with a pre and post dialogue, it can also ignite their learning.

There is no hard and fast rule as to when an educator should perform a demo. I prefer using them as an intro to the topic. Other teachers choose to defer to demos as a means of solidifying a key idea at a later stage of concept development. There is certainly no shortage of demos — a quick glance at the OAPT website will alert you to that, but what is often missing in demo descriptions is the pedagogy that surrounds the show. 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.
Christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

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...

How to use the OAPT Physics Contest

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Newsletter Editor, Physics Teacher Danforth CTI
Roberta.tevlin@tdsb.on.ca

Recently, a teacher asked me for advice about how to start running the OAPT physics contest. I asked some teachers to help me answer this question. As well as finding great advice for getting students to write the contest, I also learnt about other contests and how teachers were incorporating past OAPT contest questions into their course all year long. Read More...

Using Concept Inventories to Improve Students’ Success

Saara Naudts, OAPT Contest Editor, Physics Teacher North Park SS
Sara.naudts@peelsb.com

The “Common Sense” Problem
Students arrive to your class equipped with prior knowledge, life experiences, and an understanding of how the world works. They have drawn their own conclusions on how observations can be explained; unfortunately, often their common sense is not correct. While teaching a new topic may be difficult, it is far more challenging trying to undo students’ misconceptions and false ideas about the world. According to Hestenes (2006), most often students simply modify their existing understanding to accommodate the new concepts rather than learn the correct knowledge, which leads to smorgasbord of right terminology, in partially accurate theories, and deeply-rooted misconceptions. Read More...

New Statistics Feature for the OAPT Contest

Shawn Brooks, Contest Manager, Teacher at University of Toronto Schools
sbrooks@utschools.ca

We have always strived to have a range of question difficulty on our OAPT Grade 11 Physics Contest. We now have a new statistics feature, so that teachers will be able to review how well their students did on each question. When you find that your students had a difficult time with a particular question, you could try dividing your students into groups to discuss:

  • why they agree or disagree with the official answer to the question
  • how they could re-write the question to make it easier to solve
  • why so many students picked the wrong answer
Read More...

Review: ZipGrade App for iOS and Android

Robert Prior, teacher at Agincourt CI
robert.prior@tdsb.on.ca

Are you tired of marking multiple-choice tests? Put away your overlays and highlighters, download ZipGrade to your smartphone, and not only will you save time — you'll also learn more about what your students are really thinking! Read More...

System and Free Body Diagrams

Eric Haller, Physics Teacher, Bond Schools International
rickyhaller@hotmail.com

When asked to draw a force diagram for some simple situation, most students emerging from any level of introductory physics course are likely to draw objects which look like a porcupine shot by an Indian hunting party—the number and direction of pointed entities being essentially stochastic.

Arnold Arons (1979)


My name is Eric Haller. I’m a new teacher and I am currently at the start of my third year teaching in China. Even though I live so far away, I was able to make it to the physics camp in Sudbury two summers ago. There I got a book called FIVE EASY LESSONS: Strategies for Successful Physics Teaching by Randall D. Knight, which I highly recommend. In this book, Knight talks about many different ways we can improve how we teach physics, a few of which I’ve actually tried out with my students. I want to share with you one of the successes I’ve had with those strategies, here is how I teach my students to draw system and free body diagrams.

Read More...

A Numbers Game: the Significant Digits Racket

Chris Meyer, OAPT VP teaching and learning, Assistant curriculum leader York Mills C. I.
Christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

OK, let’s begin by admitting that we are all playing a numbers game. Or, at least, we make our students play this game where they bet their marks on correctly figuring out the last digit to write down in their answers. (The classic numbers game is an illegal betting pool where people try to guess the last few digits of some “random” number like a stock price listing.) To make it sporting, we teach our students rules for identifying the significant digits in a given number and rules for deciding how many digits to keep after a calculation. Now, you likely know what happens next. For the rest of the year we are plagued by noisome questions during lessons and tests: “How many significant digits does this have?” “Is this two or three?” “Mr. Meyer, you started with 1000 and your final answer was 17.5 m/s ...” Sound familiar? Read More...

The best physics teaching resource you didn’t know about

Roberta Tevlin, Danforth Collegiate, Past President of OAPT, Editor of OAPT Newsletter
roberta@tevlin.ca

One of the most valuable resources for Ontario physics teachers is now available on the OAPT website. It is a set of videos showing the grade 11U and 12U physics courses as taught by Chris Meyer - our V.P. of Teaching and Learning. Each video is a single lesson (edited to 15-30 minutes) and is accompanied by a student worksheet and a short description of the pedagogy and physics presented.
Read More...

Instant Feedback Quizzes

Chris Meyer, York Mills, C. I., Toronto
christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca
 
We have added a self-evaluation stage to the quizzes in our grade 11 physics course, turning the quizzes into a valuable learning experience for our students (assessment for learning). Students begin by answering the quiz questions in a traditional fashion, finishing with a quick reflection about any difficulties they might have had. Next, students bring their quizzes to the front of the class where there are multiple copies of the solution and coloured pens to be used for marking. They make additions or corrections to their work, gaining immediate feedback, and submit the marked-up quiz. Read More...

Barges: STEM Competitions for grades 9 to 12

Roberta Tevlin, Danforth Collegiate, Past President of OAPT

Competitions are a great way to motivate students, to provide a rich learning experience and incorporate the STEM disciplines and problem-solving approach. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find competitions that are appropriate. They need to be challenging but not impossible. They must use cheap materials and tools and should not require significant building skills. If possible, they should require precision in measurement and calculations. One competition that does all of these; and not only that, it has curriculum connections ranging from grade 9 Science to grade 12 Calculus, is “Barges”. Read More...

Demonstration Cart or “Happy Wagon”

Stuart Quick, Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences University of Toronto @ Scarborough

Some teachers might find it awkward and inconvenient to set up demonstrations on lab stands and take them down again in the time at their disposal. Lab stands tend to be weak affairs that wobble with even small loads. Or teachers may find setting up more than one demonstration at a time impractical. Read More...

From Marks to Habits: What is a “90’s” Student?

Chris Meyer, York Mills C. I., VP Teaching and Learning, OAPT
Christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

Have you had a conversation with a student that went something like this?

Student: “I need a 90% in physics in order to get into engineering at ...”
Teacher (outer voice): “Well, I’ve noticed that your homework is often incomplete.”
Teacher (inner voice): “!!?!?”
Student: “I know. I’m going to work really hard now.”
Teacher (outer voice): “You need to catch up with all the material you had difficulty with back in grade 11, especially forces and motion.”
Teacher (inner voice): “Buddy, you slacked off all through grade 11. You have no idea how tough this will be .... In two months there’s going to be tears.”
Student: “OK. Thanks, bye!”
Read More...

Classrooms Driven by Questions: A 21st Century Approach to Learning

Glen Wagner, Teacher-in-Residence Perimeter Institute

“How are black holes created and do they die? What proof is there for the Big Bang? Will the Big Bang ever stop? Is ‘absolute nothing’ possible?” These are just a few of the many questions my students have asked and attempted to answer during their unit on modern physics. As teachers, I think we all like the idea that our students should be curious, to ask questions about things that interest them, things they really wonder about. Yet, most of our teaching practices rarely embed curiosity-driven questions formed by our students as a part of a strategic process toward learning. Read More...

Standing Waves — The Can that Comes Back

Pauline Plooard, Fenelon Falls Secondary School

Two quick demonstrations from Pauline Plooard. Read More...
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