January 2022

Thoughts on Reading and Science Education

Posted: December 4th, 2021, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

Reading, like nature, inspires us to dream and to imagine, but most importantly, it teaches us to think for ourselves. A person who doesn’t read is rarely an interesting, inquisitive and curious person, at least for me. (Whistler’s Black Tusk mountain).

A few days ago I was asked to lead a discussion with a group of local parents on how they can support their children during the school – university transition. As I have had an opportunity to teach undergraduate science courses for more than 10 years, I have seen many of these issues and their implication in my own practice, so I felt I could do that. On the other hand, I didn’t want to focus solely on science education, but to look at the big picture.

Very soon I realized that one of the biggest issues I saw was students’ inability to understand and analyze written text. They read, but didn’t understand it, they were overwhelmed by it and expected to have a brief summary instead of the text. They stumbled over anything that was longer than a few paragraphs. Many of these students have earned high marks in their secondary school to be accepted to a university, but few of them learned to read and critically process what they read. And this is critical for any field, and not only science education.

If I could change one thing for our K-12, I would place a larger emphasis on reading. Not instilling the love for reading is a very big problem for university students. And passively watching a video IS NOT the same thing as reading a book.  I encounter students’ lack of reading habits,  when I meet students more and more often. It also affects their ability to communicate, to express their ideas and to form independent opinions. Reading is a key to a post-secondary success, but most importantly, it is a key of interesting and fulfilling life. This is something my own teachers and parents were able to give me – the love of reading. I am very grateful for that and I hope we, as teachers, will be able to instill this appreciation and thirst for reading in our own students and children…

So what are my favourite books that I have read recently? I will only list a few of the most recent ones and they are all from different genres:

  1. Arthur Miller: “Death of a Salesman”
  2. Arthur Miller: “A View from the Bridge”
  3. Gad Saad: “The Parasitic Mind”
  4. Dava Sobel: “The Glass Universe”
  5. Dava Sobel: “The Longitude”
  6. Philip Roth: “The Plot against America”
  7. Albert Camus: “The Plague”
  8. Vladimir Bulgakov: “The Master and Margarita”
  9. Leo Tolstoy: “Anna Karenina”
  10. W. Somerset Maugham: “The Moon and Sixpence”
  11. Jordan Peterson: “12 Rules of Life”
  12. Walter Isaacson: “Leonardo da Vinci”

These are only a few of many I have enjoyed reading recently. So if you are thinking of what present to give to your children, why not to bring them a book or to give them a membership for an online audiobook store.

UniversityTransition_Parents (with trans)

Online M.Ed. in Sci. Ed. Program @ UBC

Posted: September 7th, 2021, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

Dear Science Educators:

Today is an exciting day for many of us in British Columbia, as we are starting our new academic year.  It is especially exciting as many of us who had to teach online can return back to our campuses. While online education has its advantages, seeing students in person is also very important. I hope this year we will return to normalcy. I wish you a healthy, productive, collaborative, and intellectually exciting year. I hope it will be a great year for our students and teachers!

As I am writing this, I am thinking of my upcoming year here at UBC. I always look forward to meeting new physics teacher-candidates and getting to know the next generation of physics educators in BC. These are the people who inspire and challenge me to try and get better at what I do. I feel that I have been a student all my life and I am happy about it.

For all of you who have been teaching for a while and feel that you might need some inspiration while upgrading your education, I would like to announce that this fall we are starting recruitment for our third fully online cohort of M.Ed. in Science Education: It will begin in the fall of 2022. We already have one group of science teachers who have successfully completed it and the second group is well on their way to complete in 2022. I think this M.Ed. was very timely for our science teachers, as we have heard lots of positive feedback about it. The online mode allowed educators to engage with other teachers despite the physical distance, while giving teachers the flexibility of arranging their day to manage their teaching, family and other commitments.

If you would like to know more, please check the web site  at the University of British Columbia:  and you can always email me. I wish you and your families and students all the very best!

Academic Year 2021-2022: New challenges, new possibilities, and new hopes

Posted: September 4th, 2021, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

As I am preparing for my fall semester (I am teaching my physics methods course for the 10th time), I keep thinking about how this year feels and what I expect of it. While last year, it wasn’t entirely clear to us what we could do and how the term would go, this year it seems to me, it is much clearer. We also feel more confident as we are ready to teach both face-to-face or online. Both teachers and students are much more open to hybrid forms of learning (combining face-to-face and online). We also learned about new tools and became better at managing out time, our interactions, and our commitments. I realize that for a university faculty, it is much easier than for a teacher who works with younger students, but for all of us, we had a tremendous learning experience last year and we should not put aside what we learned.

I would like to list 10 most important learning experiences for me that I hope will make me a better teacher this year. So during 2020-2021 academic year I learned:

1. To engage my students via Zoom both in my graduate and undergraduate courses. The online mode of teaching allowed me to invite amazing guest speakers to our meetings. This was very rewarding.

2. To engage middle school and secondary students via Zoom during my outreach mathematics and science activities.

3. To use a lot of new tools, especially smartphone apps relevant to science teaching, such as phyphox, etc.

4. Not to be afraid to move events online. We realized that Physics Olympics can combine both online and face-to-face components and an online part can be very engaging – see the video on the UBC Physics Olympics web site: .

5. That our graduate students who participate in our online M.Ed. in Science Education Program had a huge advantage at their school when they needed to combine online and face-to-face learning and teaching.

6. That communication is so important in online meetings, interviews and events. Communicating face-to-face and online is not the same thing. I am glad I have been attending Toastmasters for 10 years and was ready for this communication challenge.

7. I learned that online conference can give unprecedented opportunities for engagement: Co-chairing our STEM 2021 Conference with prof. David Anderson was a very rewarding experience. We had to postpone it by a year, took a risk to move it online and did it! I also took part in a number of international STEM conference that were online. I am grateful to their organizers. We also started organizing online activities for BC Association of Physics Teachers and they were very successful.

8. I learned to ask for help both in terms of administration and in terms of pedagogy/technology. I have received a lot of support during the year and I appreciate it very much.

9. I learned to be positive and appreciate many good things that happened to me last year. For example, I had fantastic students in my classes and I value it a lot. We also met many inspirational people both face-to-face and online. This was very special.

10. I learned that working from home might be challenging, as it is hard to create work-home boundaries. So I hope I learned to be better organized.

Finally, I felt so proud of my students who completed their degrees, became teachers, earned M.Ed., M.A., or Ph.D. and continue on their academic journeys. I wish all of them all the very best.

I realize that we will have challenges ahead of us, but I also hope that we will use what we learned last year to take advantage of technology, new ways of learning and teaching and our appreciation of the opportunities we have. I also hope that we will modify our beahviours to make all of us overcome the health challenge we are still facing and keep learning. I wish everybody a great academic year.

Bella Coola Valley: We were very lucky to visit this magical place over the summer…

Summer course EDCP 544 – Final Projects

Posted: July 27th, 2021, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

This summer I had an opportunity to teach an intensive online course in our M.Ed. in Science Education program. My course focused on using technology in STEM education. One of the assignments in the course was to design a professional development activity that would support teachers in incorporating technologies in their practice. This is what the students in the course came up with. I have never had such a strong and motivated group of science and mathematics teachers before. I am very proud of them as I know they will be even better teachers when they go back to school in September:

Pro-D #1: PhET simulations in STEM Education:

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Web site for the Pro-D event:

Pro-D #2: iNaturalist in STEM Education:

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Pro-D #3: Stellarium:

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STEM 2021 Reflections

Posted: July 17th, 2021, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

Last week, we organized our first ever virtual STEM 2021 Conference. This was very special for us for many reasons. After I had some time to rest and think about it, I have to say that I am very pleased with how our conference went. We had a lot of interesting presentations, keynotes, workshops and symposia. Most surprisingly for me, the virtual platform provided many opportunities for lively discussions and interactions. I think that the virtual nature of the conference opened many opportunities that were not open to us earlier. For example, we had participants from 27 countries around the globe (380+ participants and 150+ presentations in total). We were able to invite keynote speakers from various places despite the geographical location. The recording of the sessions allowed to share the presentations with much wider audience. So while many of us wished we could see each other face-to-face, there were some advantages to the virtual environment. I hope future conferences will have a virtual component to them.

The STEM 2022 Virtual Conference will take place at the University of Sydney in November 2022. I am sure it will be a successful event.

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STEM in Education 2021 Conference: The Countdown begins

Posted: June 23rd, 2021, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

For the last two+ years, my colleagues and I have been working hard to organize an international STEM in Education Conference. It is the second time we are organizing it and Prof. David Anderson and I are co-chairs this time around. When we started our preparation in 2018, we had no idea that the conference would move from the face-to-face conference planned for 2020 to the virtual conference in 2021. So now we are only twelve days away from our virtual conference. We are very excited about it.

While the entire process of  conference organization was very challenging, there were also some unexpected rewards. We will have participants from more than 20 countries around the globe. We wouldn’t have had it if we had a face-to-face event. We also have experienced a lot of new technologies in the last year and many of us want to share these experiences with each other. We were able to invite amazing keynote speakers! Most importantly, all the presentations will be recorded, so even if we are not able to attend a session, we will be able to watch it afterwards.

Finally, we have a number of sponsors who were able to support us. We are so grateful to them: . As a result, we were able to invite students from different countries and offer them to participate in the conference with a highly reduced fee. We reached out to our colleagues from all six continents and invited them and many of them decided to participate. I am very grateful to them.

I am very excited about the conference and I hope we will have a very inspirational truly international event.

A Physics Lab in Your Pocket: Physics Olympics Go Online

Posted: June 10th, 2021, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

Today Valery  and I had an opportunity to present together at the International LUMAT Research Symposium in Helsinki Finland.  It was a very special presentation for me for many reasons. First of all, I am very excited about using smartphones to do science. I think this is something positive that came out of this year of home schooling and remote teaching and learning. The smartphone devices our students carry in their pockets can become tools for creative and meaningful science investigations thanks to the use of the phyphox app – – an app designed by physics educators at the University of Aachen in Germany: .

Second, our talk was about first ever virtual UBC Physics Olympics. We were lucky to start using phyphox. While many of us (including me) were hesitant about organizing our very hands-on event virtually, I am so glad we did. It was a very successful event because we had to rethink where our students can do science and phyphox was the tool we needed to make it happen. It forced us to see something that the students have had all along and yet we ignored it – their smartphones. Now we know how useful they can be for doing science.

Third, it was a presentation with my husband – Dr. Valery Milner. I am always inspired by him and I am so glad he is so passionate about science teaching. While his main research is in the Ultrafast Quantum Coherent Control of Matter, he is always interested in basic science our students learn in schools and how to make science interesting and inspiring for them. Doing this presentation together was also very interesting and inspiring, even though we had to present at 5 am Vancouver time. It was all worth it. I know that next year, I will definitely will be doing phyphox experiments with my teacher candidates.

You can find our presentation slides below.



Tapping into the Power of Technology to Transform Learning

Posted: June 8th, 2021, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

I was very fortunate to participate and present at the Public Sector Network Forum: “Tapping into the power of technology to transform learning”. If you are interested in broad topics related to education, technology and many other issues related to the current challenges we face as society, become a member and participate in their virtual events.

STEM Teacher Education Research

Posted: May 29th, 2021, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

It took my colleague Prof. Rina Zazkis and I more than two years to write this paper. I am so glad it is out now and I am very proud of the results of our collaboration:

Here is the abstract:


This study examines the knowledge for teaching of prospective secondary physics teachers as related to the subject of sound waves, specifically the topics of sound level and sound intensity. The data is comprised from future teachers’ responses to the task in which they had to compose a script for an imaginary dialogue between a teacher and a group of students and provide a commentary elaborating on their instructional choices. The topics selected for the task were chosen intentionally as they provide authentic and rich opportunities to bridge mathematics and science concepts while challenging future teachers to consider logarithmic measurement scale and its role in science. The task provided the beginning of the dialogue, that featured a student’s confusion related to the measurement of the sound level using a decibel scale. Future physics teachers were asked to extend this dialogue through describing envisioned instructional interactions that could have ensued. The instructional interchange related to the relationship between sound intensity and sound level, and particular teachers’ responses to the student ideas related to the meaning of a decibel sound level scale were categorized as featuring superficial or deep, conceptual or procedural knowledge for teaching. We describe each category using illustrative excerpts from the participants’ scripts. We conclude with highlighting the affordances of scriptwriting for teachers, teacher educators, and researchers.

Milner-Bolotin, M., & Zazkis, R. (2021). A study of future physics teachers’ knowledge for teaching: A case of a decibel sound level scale. LUMAT, 9(1), 336-365.

Reflecting on Another Unusual Year

Posted: May 25th, 2021, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

As another year amidst this pandemic is coming to an end, it is an opportunity to reflect of what has happened and most importantly what we have learned from it. While not surprisingly we hear lots of voices on the negative effects of the pandemic on learning, I would like to ask myself the following question: What have we learned and what would we like to carry on with us? And I think, the answer might surprise you – I think we have learned a lot and I sincerely hope, we will carry what we have learned into our post-pandemic years. For example, we realized that learning should be happening not only during formal school hours, but also outside of them and we cannot overemphasize the role of family in supporting students. We also realized that novel technologies can provide opportunities that we haven’t had before or didn’t consider seriously before. So many interesting people visited our virtual classrooms last year. In addition, many students were able to benefit from the virtual learning environments that supported self-paced learning (e.g., many school districts in BC adopted an IXL platform, Edwin, etc.) We also started thinking of how much our students can do with the smartphones that they already have. The 41 1/2 UBC Physics Olympics that we organized in March of 2021 just showed how students’ smartphones can become a mobile lab in their pockets: I hope we will be incorporating the smartphone component in the future events and I also hope teachers will take advantage of it in their own teaching.

At the same time. we also realized how much our students learn in school that goes beyond the subject matter learning and how important the school is for supporting students’ emotion well-being. So there are lots of lessons to be learned and to reflect on.

This thinking was also spurred into an invitation I received from the Public Sector Network in Canada. They invited me to present during their virtual EduTech event: Tapping into the power of technology to transform learning” that will take place on June 8th, 2021. I hope many of my friends and colleagues will be able to participate. I am presenting their as well and I hope my presentation will interest people. I will talk about the silver lining of the pandemic and how this tough year might open new opportunities and new ways to engage our students in 21st century learning.


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