June 2023

Engaging students in STEM

Posted: June 1st, 2023, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

As the school year is coming to an end, it is a great opportunity to reflect on the highlights of this year for me. I would like to mention 7 special opportunities I had this year that made it all worth it for me:

  1. My EDCP 357 Physics Methods Course – was a wonderful opportunity to inspire and be inspired by new physics teachers. We had an exceptionally strong group of physics teachers and I am enormously grateful for that. You can see t heir projects and contributions to our video collections here:
  2. EDCP 544 Graduate Course in the MED in Science Education Program: The graduate students in our Master’s Program, who are practicing STEM teachers, inspired me to think of innovative use of technology in STEM education. This was a fantastic group of teachers who also shared with me their STEM education projects. For example, this one was related to the use of Phyphox in physics teaching: and there were many other great projects.
  3. Students and teachers who participated in the 42nd UBC Physics Olympics made me so happy and proud of their work. This was a very meaningful activity and I am grateful to everybody who helped to make it happen:
  4. Having an opportunity to mentor graduate students who do research in STEM education. I am grateful to all of you for giving me a chance to learn with you.
  5. Mentoring students at the University Transition School. This is a group of young, talented and curious students. Engaging with them in STEM was a challenge and an opportunity for me.
  6. Participation in the STEM 2022 Conference at the University of Sydney together with my graduate students was a great opportunity to learn from colleagues from around the world. I am grateful for that.
  7. Visiting many BC schools with STEM outreach activities was definitely a highlight. Volunteering for the Scientists and Innovators in the Schools organization (SIS) has brought us lots of joy in the last 15 years! This organization makes a huge difference for thousands of students all across BC. I especially would like to thank Mr. Bill Deagle from Carihi Secondary School in Campbell River and Mrs. Angie McTague from LV Rogers Secondary School in Nelson BC for inviting us. This was a collaboration with my husband, Dr. Valery Milner (whose experiment on breaking a wine glass with sound you can see below). We both enjoyed it immensely and would like to thank students and teachers for welcoming us. All these trips would have never happened if not for Christen Olsen from SIS and her team. The SIS is hosted by Science World and what they do to support STEM outreach is very inspiring.
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I am grateful for all these opportunities and I would like to wish you all a great summer.

45 UBC Physics Olympics in Numbers

Posted: March 7th, 2023, by Marina Milner-Bolotin
Carihi Secondary School and their teacher Mr. Bill Deagle (the team travelled from Campbell River, BC)

Carihi Secondary School and their teacher Mr. Bill Deagle (the team travelled from Campbell River, BC)

The Overall Winner – Eric Hamber Secondary School team and their teacher Mr. Eric Lam, who is also a UBC graduate!

Semiahmoo Secondary School and their teacher Mr. Louay El Halabi. This year they were in the 3rd place!

Dear physics enthusiasts and friends:

This Saturday, more than 700 secondary students from all over BC travelled to UBC to participate in the 45th Annual UBC Physics Olympics: . It was our first face-to-face post-pandemic event and I am so glad to report that it went exceptionally well. The event is a long time (almost half a century) collaboration between the Departments of Curriculum and Pedagogy and Physics and Astronomy. It is the largest hands-on on-campus science event in Canada and probably one of the largest in North America. Vancouver CTV News featured the following report about it:

I also would like to share with your that this year the overall Champion is Eric Hamber Secondary School team. Their teacher – Mr. Mark Lam – is our own BED graduate. And most of his team are Grade 10 and 11 students! I am so proud of him and his team.

Here are a few numbers about the event:

  1. Students: 718
  2. The distance the farthest team (LV Rodgers Secondary School from Nelson, BC) travelled to get to UBC: 665 km
  3. Number of medals distributed at the event: 90
  4. Number of volunteers: More than 70
  5. Number of participating teams: 63
  6. Number of teachers: 61 (we had some schools with two teams)
  7. Number of the annual UBC Physics Olympics: 45th
  8. Number of teachers who attended our special Pro-D event: Physics teaching ideas exchange: 32
  9. Number of teachers who were own BED students and who are currently our own students in our MED in Science Education cohort: 18
  10. Number of tours at TRIUMF facility: 12
  11. Number of special plaques for the winners: 6
  12. Number of different events: 6 (2 labs, Quizzics, Fermi Question challenge, and 2 Pre-Builds)
  13. Number of overall trophies – 1

We were interviewed by the CTV news. The interview link:

We received many-many thank you notes from the teachers. I am so glad to see that we have strong connections with the community and we are contributing to science education in our province not only through teacher education, but also through successful and inspirational outreach events:

“Just wanted to say a huge thank you for a fantastic event. My students were super touched by your acknowledgments and were completely inspired by their fellow students and the events. We look forward to coming next year.

Kind Regards,

Angie McTague

LVR Physics teacher

Nelson, BC”

The evolution of smartphones in my Physics Classroom: Beyond engagement

Posted: November 30th, 2022, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

As the winter 2022-2023 term is coming to an end, it gives me an opportunity to think about how we have been using smartphones in my physics classrooms in the last few years. While the original goal was to engage students, especially when we had to teach fully online, as our experience grew, we were able to uncover much deeper advantages of using this ubiquitous technology while helping students learn physics in or outside of our classrooms. Now it is not only about the engagement, it is about a very different way of learning physics and experiencing science in general. I also have to acknowledge how lucky I am to be able to collaborate with many of my colleagues and friends in this endeavour. So this has been a joint effort with my physics colleagues, including my husband, Prof. Valery Milner, who pioneered the use of smartphones in the UBC Physics Olympics, many amazing physics teachers, who have provided feedback and great ideas, as well as my physics teacher-candidates, who have been using smartphones in their physics methods course for the last three years and who have been mentoring secondary students who have participated in physics projects that used smartphones as scientific tools in very creative ways.

So, we have been using smartphones in three different ways:

a) As a powerful data collection tools – using Phyphox as the main source of data collection (see below). We also used Physics Toolbox, etc.

b) As a powerful data collection tool using its video features – the students recorded videos of different scientific experiments and then analyzed them using Video Analysis tools, such as Vernier Logger Pro Video Analysis or Tracker video analysis. This was especially helpful while learning about kinematics, collisions, etc.

c) As a tool for doing science simulations and visualizations using tools, such as PhET, etc.

From my own experience, smartphones opened unique opportunities to do science and to experience the excitement of figuring things out be it in a physics classrooms, or outside of it. However, they also required a lot of learning from our side. Smartphones helped us facilitate a meaningful intellectual engagement that reflects how science is done. For example, this term, our secondary students have conducted projects using a Phyphox app to explore the physics of music. The students produced sounds using various musical instruments and then used various acoustic components of Phyphox to analyze them. The students also investigated how sound can be generated and absorbed.  Some of the secondary students delved into Fourier Analysis, they experienced the meaning of tones, overtones, basic frequency, etc. They investigated how different sounds are produced and how we represent the sound mathematically and graphically. The students also learned to do error analysis and realized how important it is to ask science questions that can be answered. While they were working on these projects, our future physics teachers were mentoring them and also learned a great deal about doing science as teachers.

In the different area, we are working on preparing for the next UBC Physics Olympics and considering how smartphones can be used for Pre-Builts (the setups our students prepare at home). This was something that allowed all students in British Columbia, independently of the availability of equipment in their physics labs at their schools to participate.

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In summary, I see lots of opportunities in using Smartphones in physics education. I hope their use will grow and the next generation of physics teachers will be able to take full advantage of this ubiquitous technology.

To read more about it, please visit:


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:

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:

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: 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!

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