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Thoughts on the Equinox and Learning

Posted: September 21st, 2022, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

Tomorrow will be official the first day of fall. Thursday, September 22nd, 2022 is the autumn equinox, the day when the length of day equals the length of night. Of course, it is a spring equinox in the southern hemisphere, but for us, it is the beginning of fall. As a science teacher, I see lots of opportunities to discuss it with my students. For example, why does the equinox happen? How fast will the length of the day change during different times throughout the year? For example, now the rate of change is the fastest. Why does it happen? What happens to the world-nature around us during the fall and why? How are the astronomical phenomena, such as equinoxes related to the calendar and how we measure time and seasons?

While doing a quick search, I found a few interesting facts about the equinox we can use to draw students’ attention and interest in science and I think they can and should be used in science classes:

  • Equinox is an instantaneous phenomenon. …
  • Day and Night are not precisely 12 hours each. …
  • Equinox does not occur on a fixed day. …
  • Equinoxes signal the start of Northern Lights. …
  • Harvest Moon in the Autumnal Equinox. …
  • Autumn Equinox once marked the start of the new year.

A beautiful view of the harbor in Tofino, BC.

I wish you all a happy and productive fall.

New Academic Year – Have a Great Ride

Posted: September 4th, 2022, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

Merritt Pro Rodeo 2022

This year, for the first time in my life I had an opportunity to visit a rodeo. Even though my Ph.D. is from the University of TX, I never had a chance to see a real rodeo there. I also have never visited the famous Calgary Stampede or similar events. To be honest, I didn’t think it would be something interesting for me. I cannot even express how wrong I was. First of all, this rodeo was very special. For the last two years, the rodeo in Merritt was cancelled and this year, it started happening again. The joy of people who were there was very palpable. However, what surprised me the most is how much I could relate to it and not only because all the physics that goes into the horse riding or the roping events. Even though I have never lived on a farm or have learned to ride a horse, the skills the cowboys and cowgirls have been showing were astonishing. Yet, what was the most important for me, is how they didn’t give up even when something didn’t work for them. Even when the things didn’t work how they were supposed to work, the cowboys stood up and didn’t show how upset they were or when possible tried again. One could see how much work was put into acquiring and honing these skills and how much perseverance these athletes have. This hard work and dedicated resonated with me very much.

This is how I hope my students and I will be this year. I realize that teaching and learning physics are skills that takes a long time to develop and to hone. These are also perishable skills. You cannot acquire them and keep learning or practising. As much as we all try and prepare, some things do not work the way we wish. And I hope, like these cowboys and cowgirls, we will not give up and keep trying. As long as we all keep doing what we love doing and help each other, we will succeed and if not from the first time, then from the second, or third one. This is one of the key lessons for me this year.  Never give up and keep trying.

Like the visitors and the participants of the 2022 Pro Rodeo in Merritt, I am super excited to begin this new academic year and I hope we all will have a great ride. And if things do not work, we will keep trying. Happy New Academic Year to all the students, teachers and their families! Let us have fun with physics at school and at home. Learning should never stop!

 

Public Voting: International LUMA StarT Competition

Posted: May 5th, 2022, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

This year I was invited to be one of the judges of the International LUMA StarT competition. This is a large international competition organized by my colleagues at the University of Helsinki in Finland. StarT competition invites educators and students from all around the world to present and share exciting ideas about teaching and learning of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – STEM. You can read more about StarT here:

StarT – together for a good future

The main goal of StarT is to implement to schools a new interdisciplinary, collaborative StarT way of working and thinking, based on research and the practices emphasized in the newest core curriculum of Finland. StarT is an important part of the activities of LUMA Centre Finland, which is a network of Finnish universities working on to ensure the high quality of science, technology and mathematics teaching in Finland.

I enjoyed exploring the submissions and learning from them. The submissions came from so many different countries – from many continents and many-many countries. The submissions made me feel inspired and hopeful for the future. We have a lot to learn from each other and a lot to collaborate on. I hope the competitions like this one will help bring people together and will encourage more students to engage with STEM.

And since it is an international event, anybody who is interested can vote as well:

https://start.luma.fi/en/2022/05/02/international-public-voting-in-may-vote-for-your-favourites/

Explore and pick your favourite project.

 

2022 Virtual UBC Physics Olympics

Posted: March 7th, 2022, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

On Saturday, March 5, 2022, UBC Departments of Physics and Astronomy and Curriculum and Pedagogy organized our second ever virtual UBC Physics Olympics. UBC Physics Olympics has a history of more than four decades! This time, we decided to have a virtual event once again, to increase student participation and decrease the risk of spreading COVID. From our last year’s experience with the virtual UBC Physics Olympics, we know that having an online event has its own pros and cons. Yet, we were convinced that that at this time, the virtual Physics Olympics was the right choice. More than 50 teams from all across BC participated in the event (400+ students). We organized four different competitions as part of the 2022 UBC Physics Olympics: Pre-build: Smartphone elevator; Planetary Astronomy Lab; Quizzics, and Fermi Questions. I represented our Department and Faculty and interacted with many teachers and students. I collaborated with Drs. Valery Milner and Andrzej Kotlicki on the Smartphone Elevator event, which challenged students to build a mechanical device to lower the phone from the table to the floor with the minimal acceleration, while doing it as fast as possible. The students used a freely available Phyphox smartphone app to measure this acceleration, as well as the time it took to lower the phone. This was a great event, as it encouraged students to use the technology they already have to do science. We hope that this app will be used in their science labs from now on.

Based on the feedback from the students and teachers, the event was a huge success. As the teacher, Dr. Louay El Halabi (whose team won the overall First place) has written to me: “Thank you so much!!! A great event as usual attended by a substantial number of teams. Thank you Marina and all faculty who helped make this event a reality. Students need something like that to distract them from COVID routines. Just wrapped a team meeting with the students Congratulating them on their hard work.”

Congratulations to all the teams, the teachers, students, parents, and all the support team members who made it possible.

To learn more about the UBC Physics Olympics, please visit the event web site: https://physoly.phas.ubc.ca/

Brentwood School Smartphone elevator contraption

Burnaby South School Smartphone elevator contraption

Semiahmoo Secondary School Smartphone elevator contraption

Getting Ready for Virtual Physics Olympics

Posted: February 15th, 2022, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

Last year we decided to conduct UBC Physics Olympics virtually. It was the choice we had to make in order to make the Olympics happen. Despite all the challenges more than 40 teams participated and the event went very well.

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However, surprisingly (at least to me), very few teams from outside of the Lower Mainland took part in the event. Since the transportation was not an issue, why then our outreach was not able to reach to the remote communities? We are organizing the Physics Olympics this year virtually once again and it looks like we have few remote teams once again… So it tells me that the issue might not be the transportation, but there are some other reasons why we fail to engage students in remote communities. I think the students who live in these communities are as capable to participate in our event, but they need to know about it and they need support. So, while thinking about it, I am wondering, how can we create a mentorship network for our outreach events so the students from all the province can participate? This is the challenge I am thinking about now. I hope that what we have learned in the last two years with online education, technologies for online and remote teaching will translate to higher engagement in science. This is my personal goal for 2022 – to expand our outreach efforts to all over BC and to create networking and mentorship for the students in remote communities.

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: https://pdce.educ.ubc.ca/med_science/ 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: https://pdce.educ.ubc.ca/med_science/  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: https://physoly.phas.ubc.ca/ .

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: https://phunwithphet.weebly.com/

Pro-D #2: iNaturalist in STEM Education:

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iNaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/

Pro-D #3: Stellarium:

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Stellarium: https://stellarium.org/ 

 

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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