August 2021

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.


41 1/2 UBC Physics Olympics

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

On Saturday, March 6th, we held 41 1/2 UBC Physics Olympics. This was a completely virtual event and since we have never done it before, we were not sure how it will go. I am so glad to share that the event was a huge success. It was a collaboration of the UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy and UBC Department of  Curriculum and Pedagogy. There was an amazing team of people who made it possible. Just to name a few from the Department of Physics and Astronomy: Theresa Liao, Aaron Boley, Mike Hasinoff, Valery Milner, Andrzej Kotlicki,  Jorg Rottler, Alex May, and Joss Ives, and many-many volunteers graduate and undergraduate students. We had 42 teams who participated and their teams were from a 5 students to almost 20! A number of school had more than one team present, which tells us that the event was a draw to many creative students!

The event became possible thanks to two big advances in the tools we can use to engage with science. The first one is the PhET computer simulations and the second one is a free smartphone app phyphox developed by Sebastian Staacks and his team at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany.

We had the following five events:

  1. Home Lab using phyphox: Determining the acceleration of free fall
  2. Home Lab using phyphox: Determining the speed of sound
  3. Quizzics (figuring out physics questions asked in a multiple-choice format)
  4. Fermi questions
  5. A virtual lab using PhET computer simulations

The final total score for the schools is:

  1. R.E. Mountain Secondary School
  2. Burnaby North Secondary B
  3. Semiahmoo Secondary School
  4. Port Moody Secondary
  5. Fraser Heights Secondary School
  6. Eric Hamber Secondary B
  7. SATE Education
  8. Eric Hamber Secondary A
  9. Richmond Secondary School
  10. Burnaby North Secondary A

Valery and I were in charge of the Home Lab events and we both were blown away by the creativity of the teams and the quality of their submissions. There were proposed 14 different ways to measure the gravitational constant and 6 different ways to measure the speed of sound using phyphox! We hope that the students will continue using phyphox and physics teachers will pick up this amazing tool to use in their classes.

I also would like to mention that we had a special workshop for physics teachers during the day – Algodoo workshop – led by Mr. Louay El Halabi – an award winning physics teacher from Semiahmoo Secondary School. It was very well attended and shows many creative ways of using a physics engine – Algodoo for physics teaching.

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The Pleasure of Findings Things Out

Posted: February 20th, 2021, by Marina Milner-Bolotin

Many years ago, when I was a little girl, my grandfather gave me a gift. As it was very common in our family – it was a book. The book had a smiling man with unruly curly hair on its cover. It was a translation of a book written by an American physicist – Richard Feynman. The book was called “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out“. I read it in a few days. It was a difficult book to put down. I knew why my grandpa gave it to me – not only because he was a physicist and he had a great sense of humour, but because he wanted me to appreciate how amazing it is to figure things out to yourself… Luckily I was able to keep it with me for my entire life. I hope it comes across in my teaching as well. However, it is not something I only remember when I teach, I hope I live by it. This pleasure of finding things out for myself – be it learning of a new language, learning science, or learning to bake a new kind of bread is something that is a big part of my life.

I have been learning languages forever and I love to use Duolingo to help me with it. Originally, I thought to start with Farsi to be able to communicate better with my friends and family, but when I saw the intricacies of its alphabet, I got a little scared. The writing in Farsi looks very complicated. So I kept postponing it… However, recently I realized that my nephew in Israel has to learn Arabic, so to experience this learning with him I began learning Arabic. As I speak Hebrew, I thought it would be super easy. However, I was surprised to find out that while both Hebrew and Arabic are Semitic languages they are not as similar as I had hoped.

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The letters in Arabic look very different from Hebrew letters and the languages do not sound very similar. But I decided to give it a try with Duolingo (BTW, Duolingo still doesn’t have Farsi, which is a real shame). So I have been learning for about a month or so and I can say that I probably can recognize 15 or so letters (and they change depending on their position in a word). One thing I know with languages that you have to be patient and give yourself time to get used to the sounds of the language and not to be upset if you do not see results right away. I have to say that my results have been very modest… Yet about a week ago I walked into a Persia Foods store. It is one of my favourite stores in Vancouver and I stopped by the entrance to put on the mask. I was standing by a big box of avocados and without realizing, I read what was written there: آووکادو. Obviously, it was also written in English, but I read the Arabic letters. It puzzled me. Why would they write in Arabic in a Persian Food store? I ran into the store and asked them and they were very surprised as it was written in Persian (Farsi) and not in Arabic. But I clearly recognized the same letters… آووکادو – Farsi and أفوكادو – Arabic. Of course some small wiggles above the letters were slightly different (at that time I haven’t learned about them yet), but I could recognize the letters… This was so exciting to me that I started walking around the store trying to recognize the letters I knew in all other fruits and vegetables. I am sure the Farsi speaking staff in the store thought I was positively crazy being so excited about being able to read some words… However, the feeling of finding things out for yourself are very empowering and I was just so happy about it.

Later at home, I read about the connection of the Farsi and Arabic alphabets and I was very happy to see that when I will eventually start learning Farsi, I will have some background. I also spoke to my daughter in law who taught me how to write my own name in Farsi and I could read it: مارینا. In addition, I read a little bit about learning Arabic: and about how Arabic and Hebrew are related:

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However, the point is that I was able to figure it out for myself. And it doesn’t matter if it is about the language or Newton’s laws, it is something that I FOUND OUT FOR MYSELF. Maybe the fact that my first Farsi or Arabic words were avocado sounds stupid or funny, but to me it is meaningful. There is nothing like the feeling of learning something new and after long period of trying and failing starting to see meaning behind it. Only a month ago all these Arabic letters looked like strange wiggles that I would never be able to understand. Not anymore. This is very-very special and this is something I would like to give my students an opportunity to experience – the pleasure of finding things out. Why? Because it is priceless. Because when you know how exciting and empowering it is to learn something new, you start seeing the world differently. I can only compare it with somebody who could hear the sounds for the first time in her life. An entire new world opens to her. Of course one can live their life without hearing, but how much richer and more interesting the life is when you CAN here. This is how I felt in the store and this is what I think my grandfather wanted to teach me with the help of Richard Feynman.

New Year, New Aspirations, and Old Challenges

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

The hardest mountain to climb is the one within. (J. Lynn)

Today is the first day of the winter term in 2021. As always, early January is the time for new aspirations, new hopes, and new resolutions. This year is no different even if sometimes it feels like everything is different now. I would argue that at least in the context of teaching many of the challenges we are currently facing are the same we faced in the past years but failed to acknowledge.

For example, while teaching online or face-to-face, we have to think how to make it interesting, relevant and engaging for our students. We have to think what tools we can use to involve the students, what questions to ask, what problems to discuss… We have to think about student collaboration and the balance between individual and group work. It would be naïve to believe that we have resolved all these problems in the past and now the challenges of online education are completely new.

I think online education has forced us to face the “elephant in the room” that has been present for a while – student disengagement in learning. With all the challenges and uncertainties of the current situation, I think it will bring some positive outcomes to our education system. I have at least five reasons to believe so:

1) In order to convert our face-to-face courses to online platforms, we had to invest in teaching in terms of our course design. This is always a worthwhile investment and I think this refreshed many of the courses we teach. Teachers in K-12 and post-secondary classrooms had to invest heavily into their learning environments, re-considering the pedagogies they had been taking for granted for years…

2) We had to learn new technologies that can be used in an online classroom. And I do not mean “Zoom” or some other platforms. I mean educational technologies that can be used to engage students remotely. For example, smartphone apps, computer simulations, collaborative technologies, etc. Many of these technologies allow students to choose their own pace of learning. This is something that was hard to implement before. For example, if a lecture is recorded, one can watch it a number of times and then ask specific questions relevant to a particular part of the lecture. Students can also watch lectures created by other professors. Of course it assumes that the students are interested in learning. This is an even bigger issue in online classrooms…

3) We had to acknowledge that effective teaching and learning require significant investment of time and effort from both the instructors and the students. As a result, school and university administrators began actively investing into professional development of their staff. Moreover, many educators who were skeptical about new pedagogies and pedagogical innovations had no choice but to consider them. Some of them were surprised with the result. This is what I heard from a colleague regarding online education and their experience with it: “As a former critic of teaching online – for years I found the concept oxymoronic – my experience this term has changed my mind.” I believe many other post-secondary educators will agree.

4) We realized that online education has its advantages. By learning online, many of the traditional roadblocks had been removed. For example, many instructors were able to invite inspirational speakers to their classrooms who would not have been able to come before. Thus the students had an opportunity to interact with these wonderful speakers. The instructors were able to incorporate the resources created by others and support students who were learning at different speeds. Yet, the online learning environment increases the gap between the students who are motivated to learn and the students who aren’t. So while some students were able to thrive, many fell behind because they had to assume responsibility for their own learning. This is something many of our students are not yet ready to do.

5) Many teachers and educators reached out to the larger community and joined international networks of professionals facing similar problems in their classrooms. The proliferation of online events helped increase the engagement of instructors and teachers. Thus, it facilitated the connections and support network that transcended the school or even the country borders.

All in all, I expect this year to see a lot of positive outcomes in how our students are engaged in learning. I also hope these positive shifts will stay with us beyond 2021. I would like to wish our teachers, students and their families a productive and successful 2021!

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