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Pedagogy

Why Teach Bohr Diagrams?

Chris Meyer, Past President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers
christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

The stock and trade of the science teacher is the Bohr diagram. Ask a random person off the street what an atom looks like and they will describe a Bohr diagram (well, actually something similar but with ovals — just Google “atom”). But is the Bohr diagram a useful representation of the atom to teach students? In this article we will explore the conceptual foundations of the Bohr diagram and my proposed alternatives. Along the way, we will delve into the science of the atom and flesh out some challenging ideas. Now, normally when I write an article, I share well-rehearsed practices from my classroom. This article will be different! Here I share my musings as an attempt to define this problem and layout possible solutions. I'll also let you in on a little secret of mine: when I want to learn more about something, I choose to write an article about it! Since this is an exploration, I would be very happy to hear your thoughts on these ideas. I am no chemist and I recognize that I am venturing into dangerous terrain. Read on! 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...

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...

Shining the Light on Grade 10 Optics (Part 2)

Adam Mills
President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers
Assumption College Catholic High School
adam_mills@wecdsb.on.ca

This article continues from the initial article I wrote on optics, which detailed many of the misconceptions that students struggle with but are hidden inside the simple mathematics of the unit. In this article I look at practical ways for making the optics unit more interactive, with a focus on developing the rules for ray diagrams and the cooperative group problem solving I have my students complete at the end of the unit. Read More...

Online Exit Cards

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

I was taught about exit cards when I was in teachers college, but I was never asked to complete any as a student, and as a new teacher I didn’t really think they made sense. We typically can’t dismiss the students who complete their exit cards early, nor can we hold back students who need more time to complete them after class; so I didn’t really see the value in doing exit cards. With the current pandemic, however, times have drastically changed. In the Peel District School Board (PDSB), we are currently using a teaching model where we are simultaneously teaching students both in class and at home (also known as the hybrid learning model or the community learning model). Prior to the pandemic I could do a quick scan of the classroom and see which students were working, which weren’t, and who was struggling. Now, with many students at home with their webcams off, scanning the room is no longer possible. I had found myself in need of a teaching strategy that would give me a means of checking in on every student in the class (both in school and at home). I also wanted a teaching strategy I could use everyday that would encourage the students at home to attend and participate in class, and one that allowed me to continuously track individual student achievement. To solve this problem, I realised that exit cards would work perfectly, so long as they were submitted to me online. Read More...

Scientific Models for Electrical Polarization: A Close Look at Grade 9 Static Electricity

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

Why explore the idea of polarization?
A good way to learn about static electricity is by exploring things around us: run a comb through your hair, peel different fabrics apart, go down a plastic slide in a playground, there's so many possibilities! Another common one is the rubbed balloon sticking to a wall: an example of a charged and uncharged object interacting that requires some subtle science to explain. The grade 6 science curriculum mentions examples like this but leaves out the scientific tools to properly explain it. The grade 9 curriculum mentions charging by induction and again leaves out the science. Electrical interactions form the conceptual backbone for an understanding of atoms and molecules, electric circuits and fields, and why those annoying bits of Styrofoam keep sticking to our hands! The missing idea from the curriculum is polarization, a concept that explains the attraction between a charged and neutral object. Polarization also serves as a conceptual bridge between the topics of static and current electricity, which are often taught as two distinct topics. The curriculum provides a poor road map for learning about electricity; it will pay us great dividends as teachers to do a better job of this, so let's explore polarization! I want to share with you two lessons for grade 9 science that focus on this important electrical concept. Read More...

Teaching Astronomy by Inquiry: Light and Chemistry!

Chris Meyer, OAPT Past President, TDSB hybrid teacher-coach
Christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

Back in the day, I used to teach at the Ontario Science Centre and present their school programs. I would meet the visiting teacher and mob of grade 9 students in advance of my “Cosmic Connections” program and ask, “So has your class covered the astronomy unit yet?” On more than one occasion, the teacher answered, “No. You’re it!” That’s right; my 45-minute extravaganza was all the astronomy that students would get in grade 9. Despite fifteen years passing since then, the topic of astronomy still does not fall within every teacher’s comfort zone, so I hope that sharing the resources for our inquiry-based unit on grade 9 astronomy will help. In this article I will explain the ideas and pedagogical design of our unit and hopefully encourage you to check it out!

This is the second part of Chris’s article on teaching astronomy by inquiry. For the first part, please go here. Read More...

Teaching Astronomy by Inquiry: The Sun, Moon, and Math

Chris Meyer, OAPT Past President, TDSB hybrid teacher-coach
Christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

Back in the day, I used to teach at the Ontario Science Centre and present their school programs. I would meet the visiting teacher and mob of grade 9 students in advance of my “Cosmic Connections” program and ask, “So has your class covered the astronomy unit yet?” On more than one occasion, the teacher answered, “No. You’re it!” That’s right; my 45-minute extravaganza was all the astronomy that students would get in grade 9. Despite fifteen years passing since then, the topic of astronomy still does not fall within every teacher’s comfort zone, so I hope that sharing the resources for our inquiry-based unit on grade 9 astronomy will help. In this article I will explain the ideas and pedagogical design of our unit and hopefully encourage you to check it out! Read More...

KineCards: A Manipulative Activity for Teaching Kinematics

Robert Prior, ePublisher of OAPT Newsletter
science@robertprior.ca

Many of our students struggle with mastering the relationship between position-time graphs and velocity-time graphs. They may know that the velocity-time graph shows the slope of a position-time graph, or that the position-time graph shows the area under the velocity-time graph, but they have trouble telling if two graphs are related except by actually doing the calculations.

We all know that practice makes perfect, but drawing many graphs takes lots of time, and time is in short supply. This activity uses pre-drawn graphs so students spend time thinking rather than drawing. Read More...

Diversity

Adam Mills, President of the OAPT
adam_mills@wecdsb.on.ca

Being a heterosexual, Caucasian male I am hardly an authority on diversity; however, my school community consists of many diverse cultures, races and religions. As such I have been attempting to make a conscious effort to better connect with my students, by ensuring that they gain an understanding that there do exist many physicists that are indeed non-Caucasian, non-male with various sexual orientations. This brief article will explore a few of the techniques, resources and ideas I am implementing in my classroom that you can easily incorporate into yours tomorrow! Read More...

Reflecting on 2020-2021

Ashley McCarl Palmer, Waterloo Region District School Board, OAPT Vice-President
ashley_mccarlpalmer@wrdsb.ca or @physicswithmcp on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube

As we move into the end of a very difficult and challenging school year, I think it is natural to take some time to reflect on where we are now compared to where we were last September (or even last winter, pre-pandemic). Once you’ve taken some time to do what makes you happy, refill the tank or bucket or whatever metaphor you wish to use, and feel like you have the energy, I encourage you to reflect on what we've all accomplished as a community of educators. Some things we have had to learn quickly, like a new technology platform, or perhaps a different approach that has surfaced in the classroom when we were forced into hybrid or distance learning. I think it's good for all teachers to think about practices we’ve used over a school year and think about which ones we’d like to keep and what we will let go of and thank them for what they have given us (a little Marie Kondo for those of you who, like me, ended up organizing the house last March after watching her show on Netflix). Read More...

Fast Feedback

Felipe Almeida, Toronto District School Board
felipe.almeida@tdsb.on.ca

As every student in an introductory physics course (like SPH3U, the grade 11 physics course in Ontario) is untrained, all their practice should be portioned appropriately in both task and problem. I have created scaffolded practice problems for the grade 11 physics course in Google Forms so students can submit their responses for immediate feedback. The forms are intended to save time and make practice/‘homework’ more meaningful and rewarding for both teachers and students. A previous article presented the forms used for portioned practice, this article will present fast feedback.
Read More...

Portioned Practice

Felipe Almeida, Toronto District School Board
felipe.almeida@tdsb.on.ca

As every student in an introductory physics course (like SPH3U, the grade 11 physics course in Ontario) is untrained, all their practice should be portioned appropriately in both task and problem. I have created scaffolded practice problems for the grade 11 physics course in Google Forms so students can submit their responses for immediate feedback. The forms are intended to save time and make practice/‘homework’ more meaningful and rewarding for both teachers and students. This article presents the forms used for portioned practice, a future article will present fast feedback. Read More...

So You Wanna Go Gradeless…

Ashley McCarl Palmer, WRDSB Teacher
ashley_mccarlpalmer@wrdsb.ca or @physicswithmcp

As we move forward in the pandemic, education is finally taking a huge leap as many educators abandon their old ways of teaching and trying something new. For some, they have heard about this wave of people going “gradeless” and they are curious about what it is about. For others, they look at their old methods of assessing and recognize that tests may not cut it anymore… and if you get rid of tests (or things that were traditionally numerically marked) then what goes into a student’s grade? Or perhaps more importantly, why even grade them at all? Read More...

Cooperative Groups for Simultaneous Learning

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

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...

How to Use a Green Screen for Teaching

Steven Fotheringham, Halton District School Board
fotheringhas@hdsb.ca

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
chris_meyer1@sympatico.ca

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...

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

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

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
christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

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
roberta@tevlin.ca

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
cormiesl@mcmaster.ca

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...

A New Look at Newton’s Laws of Motion

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Newsletter Editor, Teacher at Danforth CTI
roberta@tevlin.ca

One of the standard parts of an introductory physics course is a study of Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. They are part of the Ontario curriculum for grade 11 physics and most teachers would agree that they are essential. Chris Meyer has presented an improved way to teach the three laws of motion that will deepen student understanding: Teaching Forces I and Teaching Forces II.

In this article, I hope to reinforce Chris’ approach with a look at how the history of these three laws is wrongly presented. Read More...

Quick Guide for Teaching Physics: Forces

Chris Meyer
President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers
Hybrid Teacher-Coach for Science, Toronto District School Board
christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

Welcome to part three of my “Quick Guide” series! We have dealt with the introduction to our physics course and the motion unit, which means it is time to tackle the topic of forces. There are many tips and tricks I have come across in physics education research and from refining my own practice that I would like to share with you, so read on! My challenge for you is to choose at least one tip from the list below to try out this year during your unit on forces. Read More...

Equity Through Understanding: Electric Current & Potential Difference

Dave Doucette,OCT
Richmond Hill HS (retired)
STEAM Education Consultant, FAST Motion Studios, Toronto
doucettefamily@sympatico.ca

A 2016 paper1 surveying Purdue University electrical engineering undergraduates discovered “…seniors were more confused than novices about physical concepts such as charge, current and electrical field.” The study did not reveal precise reasons but did caution that well-intentioned but incorrect analogies “usually transform into foggy concepts students carry towards graduation (p4).” This echoed a 2008 engineering-science paper2 investigating obstacles to concept attainment of direct current. One barrier was weak modeling of the phenomenon, “…and identified the cause of this deficiency as lack of direct experience which can be remediated by creative instructional design.”

The actual mechanism of potential difference and direct current involves surface charge distribution. The challenge to develop this conceptual foundation is its invisible nature. Students cannot directly observe charge and ‘creative instructional design’ is needed to carefully scaffold inferences from static to moving charge. This paper suggests a series of activities to create the experiential background necessary for robust modelling of surface charge distribution. This conceptual foundation will be applied to series and parallel circuits to reinforce Kirchhoff’s laws. Read More...

We Can Fix the Gender Imbalance in Physics

Chris Meyer, OAPT President
christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

We Can Do Better
For many years I really didn’t know what to do about the obviously small proportion of female students in my school’s physics classes. At the time, I think I managed to convince myself that it wasn’t my problem or perhaps that it was beyond my ability to change. Fortunately, I was wrong on both counts. We can improve the gender balance in our physics classes using two strategies: encouraging grade 10 girls to take physics with presentations and an after-school activity; and encouraging grade 11 girls to continue with physics by directly addressing gender issues. Read More...

Demonstrating Diversity in Science

Sara Cormier, Michelle Lee, Sarah Naudts, Roberta Tevlin

The four of us, like many of you, are concerned about how slowly the world of physics is moving towards diversity. Over the summer we put together some resources to make it easier to demonstrate to our students that there is a place for everyone in physics. Read More...

Quick Guide for Teaching Physics: The Introductory Lessons

Chris Meyer, President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers; Hybrid Teacher-Coach for Science, Toronto District School Board
chris@meyercreations.com

Hello everyone and welcome to the first installment of my quick guide for teaching physics! In this series, I will share with you my tips and strategies for teaching each major unit of the grade 11 and 12 physics courses. The ideas I share come from my 20+ years of teaching high school physics and mounds of physics education research. In addition to quick explanations of what to do and why, I will provide links to help you learn more or access resources. Read More...

Improv-PHYS-ation: Cultivating Physics Learning Communities

Carolyn Sealfon, PhD, teacher at University of Toronto Department of Physics and researcher at the Ronin Institute
csealfon@physics.utoronto.ca

Nancy Watt, President, Nancy Watt Communications
nancy@nancywattcomm.com

Improv-PHYS-ation Logo

We would all like to build classroom communities where our students flourish. We would like our students to develop their curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, persistence and resourcefulness. As science educators, what can we learn from the arts?

In improvisational theatre (“improv”), an “ensemble” is a group of people that work together cohesively and support each other to co-create a performance, recognizing and building upon each other’s individuality and contributions. For social learners, participation in an ensemble can foster our best learning. Can we create ensembles in our classrooms? Read More...

As, for, of… How to effectively assess collaborative learning

Vjera Miović, Teacher at Silverthorn CI, OAPT Newsletter Volunteer
vjera.miovic@tdsb.on.ca

Imagine a test (and yes, it’s for marks!) during which everyone gets to see everyone else’s work, students can change, correct and update their product for a better mark, they consult each other and talk freely, and they even google information they need to solve a problem. What would you think of this assessment method if it was a physics class, or a math class? Wouldn’t that be considered cheating? And yet, my grade 9 tech students get evaluated exclusively this way. Read More...

The Story of Physics: Storytelling for High School Physics Teaching

Brian Lim, Teacher Rosedale Heights School of the Arts, Toronto
Brian.lim@tdsb.on.ca

“In the beginning…”

So starts one of the most famous and influential stories in Western civilization. Neil Degrasse Tyson continues the narrative this way:

“...sometime between 12 and 16 billion years ago, all the space and all the matter and all the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the point of a pin. Conditions were so hot, the basic forces of nature that collectively describe the universe were unified. For reasons unknown, this sub-pin-pint-size cosmos began to expand…” [1] Read More...

Controlled Experiments with Three Factors in SPH4C Grade 12 College Physics

Tim McCarthy, Teacher, St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Secondary School
mccarthyt@hcdsb.org

Controlled experiments with three factors are a great way for physics students to practice identifying and testing factors that may affect a situation. They provide an excellent opportunity to practice the Scientific Investigation Skills found in Strand A. The students are provided with a situation, brainstorm possible factors that may affect the situation, reduce the list of factors to three that can be tested in the physics lab, develop hypotheses, design procedures to test the factors, test the factors, analyze the data, perform experimental error analysis, and draw conclusions on the effects the three factors have had on the original situation.

My struggle has been to find situations that easily fit this format and that also match the curriculum specific expectations. I have created one three-factor controlled experiment for each of the six units in my 12C physics course. The three-factor experiment in the first unit is used as assessment for learning (formative) to teach the students how to do a controlled experiment. The remaining five experiments are used as assessment of learning (summative). Simulations are used for some experiments as I do not have the necessary equipment to perform all them in the lab. Read More...

Marking Tests Faster

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

Many of us find marking tests a necessary chore. It has to be done, but it’s drudgery. This article describes how I use an app and the Ontario Achievement Charts to mark tests 2-3 times faster, as well as analyze the results. Read More...

Building Confidence and Motivation with Short Building Projects

Margaret Scora, OAPT Past President,
mscora@sympatico.ca

Roberta Tevlin, Editor OAPT Newsletter, teacher Danforth CTI
roberta@tevlin.ca

Mari-Ann Goettsch, teacher at Georgetown DHS
goettschm@hdsb.ca

Over the past couple of decades there has been a dramatic decline in students’ abilities to build and solve hands-on challenges. They are well versed in virtual reality but they don’t have much experience in how to work with materials. This is a shame. They are at a disadvantage when learning physics concepts and they will have huge problems with large projects like trebuchets or Rube-Goldberg machines. In this article we will describe a number of very short hands-on projects that provide opportunities to build stuff using cheap materials. Read More...

Quizlet Live!

Steve Fotheringham, OAPT Treasurer
fotheringhams@hdsb.ca

Are you looking for a quick way to assess your class’ understanding of a topic, a way to easily integrate technology into your lessons or a way to break up the routine of your class? If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions, let me introduce you to Quizlet. Read More...

Why Don’t Students Improve? Part II

Chris Meyer, President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers; Hybrid Teacher-Coach, TDSB
Christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

So you put all that time and effort into carefully marking the test, including helpful descriptive feedback, and what happens? The student grabs the test, looks at the mark, and tosses it away. Us teachers understand that a test is an important learning experience, but this common student behaviour shows students think otherwise: a test is just a chance for us to deny them marks or sort out the strong students from the weak (a ranking they already know). From that viewpoint, why should a student do anything more than look at the mark and/or complain? And why bother to look at the feedback and make any effort to improve? Read More...

EdPuzzle

Adam Mills, OAPT Workshop Coordinator, Teacher - Assumption College Catholic High School
adam-mills@wecdsb.on.ca

One tool that has really helped change the look of my Physics classroom is Edpuzzle. https://edpuzzle.com/ Edpuzzle is a website that allows teachers to embed questions within videos already created from YouTube or other sources. I find this tool particularly useful to help minimize the amount of direct instruction that I am giving my students in class. This allows my students more time to participate in richer educational strategies such as peer instruction, cooperative group problem solving and inquiry based learning. Read More...

Stop Marking So Much!

Roberta Tevlin, Editor OAPT Newsletter, teacher Danforth CTI
roberta@tevlin.ca

Marking is important, but it is boring and it takes you away from the more important aspects of teaching and life. Marking numerical problems is not too bad, but questions that require answers in sentences can be really time-consuming. A number of teachers have complained to me about how much time they spend marking and have asked me to pass on some of my techniques for reducing this. Read More...

Why Don’t Students Improve? Part I

Chris Meyer, President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers; Hybrid Teacher-Coach, TDSB
Christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

For years it drove me crazy. I would remind students again and again about common mistakes and important details; I would make a grand production of it. But, they would make the same errors again and again. Why? A big part of the answer is this: my students never practiced assessing the quality of their own work and making improvements. This is the idea behind metacognition: the ability to monitor the process and quality of one’s own thinking and work. If we don’t train our students and give them opportunities to practice metacognition, they won’t develop this important skill. And they won’t improve. Read More...

College Physics: Electronic Literacy and Numeracy

Roberta Tevlin, Teacher Danforth CTI, OAPT Newsletter Editor
roberta@tevlin.ca

I am teaching the college physics course for the first time. My thirty years of teaching 12U physics and grade 9 science has not been a great guide for this. After two months, I am still struggling. Many of my lessons didn’t go the way I expected and some of them didn’t work at all!

Fortunately, two assignments did work well and in this article I will describe what I did and why I think they worked. Read More...

The BIG 5 Challenge: A Rich Activity for the Motion Unit

Chris Meyer, President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers
Christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

Here is a rich problem solving activity that I use when introducing the five equations of constant acceleration with my grade 11s.

Goal: I want to teach my students how to apply their new understanding to real physical situations and avoid plug’n’chug type questions. Read More...

Accommodating Multiple Special Education Needs in One Classroom

Roberta Tevlin, teacher Danforth CTI, Editor OAPT Newsletter
roberta@tevlin.ca

Recently, I and all of the other teachers at my school spent an afternoon learning how to access the IEP’s (Individual Education Plans) of our students with special education needs. We were supposed to make notes from these extremely wordy documents and figure out how to implement the required accommodations in our classrooms. Half of our students have IEP’s and all around me, I heard teachers getting frustrated. How are you supposed to address all of these individual needs at the same time?

It isn’t as impossible as it may seem. Much can be accomplished by using the principal of Universal Design and by implementing teaching techniques from Physics Education Research. Read More...

Spiraling 3U: Why I’m reshuffling the deck

Ashley McCarl Palmer, Teacher Waterloo DSB

There is a growing momentum in the elementary panel to spiral subjects, especially math, which is now flowing into secondary schools. My board has been pushing the spiral math method in the grade 9 and 10 applied courses for the past few years and last year in September our principal asked us to think about our courses to see if spiraling could be beneficial there as well. If I’m completely honest, I scoffed at the idea at first. Read More...

The Future of Physics Teaching

Chris Meyer, President, OAPT
christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

This will be my 21st year of teaching. I still enjoy my work, but I definitely feel older, crustier, and ... somewhat stumped. Over this time, I have learned a lot about teaching and made many changes. But as I refine my practice, I feel like I am not going in the direction I ought. As I learn more, I discover compelling teaching ideas that conflict with my current teaching practice and strain against the structure of our educational system. I will share with you what perplexes me, in the hope that you will find solutions that I cannot. These are my thoughts about the future of physics teaching. Read More...

The End of Conventional Current

Chris Meyer
President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers

Time to Let Go
It’s time! Conventional current, the mysterious flow of positively charged particles in current electricity, has outlived its usefulness. This model hinders the development of clear physical understanding and places an additional, unnecessary conceptual burden on all our students. We ought to let the few students who pursue the electrical trades, electrical engineering, or physics deal with this awkward relic. Use electron current in high school. It’s time to let go of the ghosts from our disciplinary past and focus on improving our students’ learning. Read More...

“Why Am I Not Getting This?” Feelings of Competence Among Young Women in Physics and Strategies to Strengthen These

Lindsay Mainhood, M.Ed., OCT, current research assistant at Queen’s University
lindsay.mainhood@queensu.ca

As a physics teacher, have you heard your students question their competence in physics? Have you heard them doubt their competence, or even express defeat in understanding physics? For reasons that may be obvious, such feelings among students can be adverse to their success and continuation in physics. Such feelings among young women can be understood as particularly detrimental on the journey toward gender equity in physics.

To explain why feeling competent is an important aspect of students’ success in physics, a research-based rationale is helpful to consider. Physics identity, a concept suggested by Hazari, Brewe, Goertzen, & Hodapp, can be described as the extent to which someone feels like they are a “physics person” (2017, p. 96). A strong physics identity is dependent on the development of four feelings (interest, competence, performance, and recognition). The importance of students’ development of physics identity is substantiated by the fact that physics identity has been shown to strongly predict students’ academic success in physics (Bliuc, Ellis, Goodyear, & Hendres, 2011) and career choice (Hazari, Sonnert, Sadler, & Shanahan, 2010). Feelings of competence, one component of physics identity, are the focus of the article. Competence can be defined as the feeling of being capable of understanding physics concepts.

In this article I share my research study’s findings related to young women’s feelings of competence during their high school physics education. This article’s aim, then, is to connect teachers to their students’ feelings of competence, or lack thereof, and to underscore the importance of helping students to feel competent for success and continuation in physics. Finally, I offer practical recommendations for teachers to help support feelings of competence in students in the physics classroom. Read More...

DIY Simulations

Tasha Richardson, OCT
tasha.richardson@tdsb.on.ca

Like many physics teachers in Ontario, I have used pre-boxed learning simulations: PhET, by University of Colorado; Gizmos, by ExploreLearning, and so on. But after having a conversation with a former student, I now have students build their own simulations. I like to ask former students what I could have done better to help prepare them for their post-secondary program. The student in question shared that his engineering program required students to run a simulation of any experiment they were intending to perform prior to doing so in the physical lab.

Note: This article is a summary of a session at the upcoming 2018 OAPT Conference. (Session B: Friday, May 11, 11:15 am) Read More...

Making First Year Physics Fun

Ben Davis-Purcell, Instructional Assistant, McMaster University
davispbr@mcmaster.ca

The Department of Physics & Astronomy at McMaster University recently redesigned our first-year physics programme. The most important aspect of this project was the design and implementation of a new introductory physics course (Physics 1A03). Sara Cormier wrote about this course in detail last year, so I will just give a brief overview. Physics 1A03 sees an enrolment of about 1800 students each year, primarily by students who need one physics course to meet a degree requirement. Many students who take the course have never taken grade 12 physics or calculus, so we do not assume prior knowledge or use any calculus. Instead, the goal of the course is to give students an appreciation for physics and show its importance, focusing on concepts that relate to real-life problems. Most importantly, we want to show students that physics is not just valuable, but fun to understand and learn. In this article I will focus on some of my favourite ways in which we make Physics 1A03 fun. I will refer you to Sara’s article for a more detailed overview of the course. Read More...

Physics in the news as a vector for classroom engagement

Kelly Meissner, BSc, MSc, BEd
Bluevale Collegiate Institute, WRDSB
kelly_meissner@wrdsb.ca

Now more than ever it has become important for our students to develop a deep understanding of the science in the news that constantly surrounds them. These students will live with the effects of climate change and hopefully make important evidenced-based decisions rather than those based on alternative facts. It is imperative that when our students leave us, they have a strong moral, ethical and scientific compass that supports the betterment of humanity and our precious Earth. Read More...

Improv for Scientists

Joanne M. O'Meara
Professor, Associate Chair (Undergraduate)
Department of Physics, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON
omeara@uoguelph.ca

In order to give our physics majors more opportunities to develop their communication skills during their undergraduate degree, we now require them to take a one-semester Science Communications course that focuses on sharing their passion for physics with diverse audiences. This course is structured very differently from the rest of their core courses, with weekly discussion sessions in which students are expected to share their thoughts and opinions on assigned readings or viewings. Students also do at least three presentations during the term and participate in regular in-class group activities such as brainstorming a script/storyboard for a video on the Physics of the Winter Olympics. Read More...

A New Approach to Teaching Motion: Modeling, Metacognition, and Mathematical Sense-Making

Chris Meyer, York Mills C. I., Toronto
Christopher.meyer@tdsb.on.ca

The Gold Medal Race
It was a thrill to watch the Toronto high school student Penny Oleksiak win gold in the pool at the Rio summer Olympics. Now my students and I watch her win every semester as part of our new motion unit for grade 11 physics. In this article, I will describe the new pedagogical ideas that I have built into this unit, starting with Penny Oleksiak. Penny’s outstanding performance is a great example for physics students because: she’s awesome, she’s female, she’s still in high school, and it draws students into a real application of what they learn: sport science.

Read More...

Integrating Google Quizzes Into Your Teaching Practice

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

As with most teachers, I struggle to provide enough feedback for my students so that they can gauge their understanding of the material. As well, I receive emails on a regular basis from the parents of my students asking about their progress in class and they expect detailed answers. To resolve both challenges, I have turned to Google Quizzes for help. Read More...

Collaborative Group Problem Solving (Part 2)

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

As discussed in Part 1 of this series of articles, one of the major goals within my Physics courses is to expose my students to problem solving. In order to complete this I have my students engage in context rich problems through a cooperative group problem solving (CGPS) setting. Please refer to the previous article to see the initial setup I use in order to get my students ready to appropriately participate in these types of problem solving opportunities. Read More...

Scrambled Science: A Writing and Thinking Activity

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

Are you tired of reading answers from your students that just blather on and on about anything that is vaguely related to the question? It took me many years to realize that I needed to explicitly teach my students how to write a good answer. Dave Doucette’s workshops on giving students the H.O.T.S. (Higher Order Thinking Skills) started me on this path. Learning to write clearly also helps students to think clearly. In an earlier article, I presented an activity called Writing with the Four C’s. This time I would like to present something I call “Scrambled Science”. Read More...

Using Math in the Physics Classroom Part I: Units and Conversions

By Chris Meyer

Do you shake your fist at the skies when you look over your student’s math work? Do you find yourself cursing the math teachers in your school? If you do, you are likely not alone. But are our grievances and grudges justified? As a physics teacher, it can feel very perplexing to watch one’s students struggle to use grade 10 mathematics in our grade 12 physics classes. Let’s give our math teachers a break for the moment and explore a surprising factor in our physics students’ struggle: the dialect of math that we speak in a physics classroom. Read More...

Fostering Physics Identity to Support Young Women in Physics: A Focus on Interest

Lindsay Mainhood, OCT, recent M.Ed. graduate and current research assistant at Queen’s University.
lindsay.mainhood@queensu.ca

The underrepresentation of women in physics is apparent at all levels of education and in nearly all countries of the world. When looking at the metaphorical leaky pipeline that supplies the field of physics with women, the largest “leak” or loss of young women from physics occurs in the period between the end of secondary education and the first year of post-secondary education (McCullough, 2002). At this time, we see women’s participation in physics education decline from 36% to 20% across Canada, a 16% loss of women from physics education (NSERC, 2010). According to other physics education research, high school is the period of education most likely to spark young women’s physics interests (Ivie, Cuzjko, & Stowe, 2001). This is of educational concern given that most young women reject physics in the period immediately after experiencing high school physics (Hazari & Potvin, 2005).

How might physics education be failing at recruiting and retaining young women? This article focuses in on findings from a study that sought to understand girls’ experiences of barriers (any factor that negatively influences their ideas and feelings about studying physics) in high school physics education. Nine women, who are now studying in a variety of Ontario university programs at undergraduate and graduate levels, met four times in a group setting as part of the research study to discuss their experiences in high school physics classes. This article offers teacher-oriented recommendations based on factors that influence young women’s ideas and feelings about studying physics. Read More...

Harnessing Emotions to Help Students Learn

Presented at the 2017 OAPT Conference, York University
Chris Meyer, teacher York Mills CI

The old me would have scoffed at the thought of my students’ emotional states while learning. “Suck it up and do your work” was my no-nonsense, starch-collared mantra. After all, I’m a physicist! But as I learned more about how the brain works, I was forced to confront my very emotional, educational prejudices. Let’s put our feelings as educators aside and simply ask ourselves the question: “what can I do to help my students learn better?”. Research into the workings of the brain reveal how deeply connected emotion is with learning; emotion is hard-wired into cognition. Teachers need to design lessons to account for students’ emotional response to learning and incorporate not just curriculum outcomes, but emotional outcomes. This article is a summary of the workshop I gave at the 2017 OAPT Conference. You can watch the video and download the PowerPoint slides to learn more. Read More...

Solving the Math Teaching Problem

Chris Meyer

How should we improve math instruction in our province? Pundits and politicians are worked up about the recent, discouraging math scores from the provincial standardized EQAO tests. Luckily, our premier, Kathleen Wynne, is coming to the rescue with an announcement of “sweeping changes”, or maybe a “refresh”, for education in our province. But how will we know if any new changes are going in the right direction? The field of education is littered with the wreckage of pedagogical fads driven by experts who have little connection to functioning classrooms. To navigate this debris, the best maps are those that have been informed by the science of learning and the effective practices of our most successful teachers. These maps will help answer the questions we should be asking as we try to solve the math teaching problem. Read More...

Teaching Chris’ stuff without being Chris Meyer

Milica Rakic, Teacher at Walkerville Collegiate Institute, Windsor, ON
mica@opusteno.com

Have you ever had the feeling that your students can do so much more that what they have been showing you in class?

If you are looking for a change, you might find Chris Meyer’s material very helpful. I switched from traditional lecture-based teaching to using Chris’ resources for inquiry-based learning and my students are very happy that I have made that decision. Read More...

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.

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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.
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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!”
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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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