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Physics Education in Canada. Tetyana Antimirova and Pedro Goldman Department of Physics, Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Science Ryerson University 2008 OAPT Conference

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Physics education in canada
Physics Education in Canada

Tetyana Antimirova and Pedro Goldman

Department of Physics,

Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Science

Ryerson University

2008 OAPT Conference

22-24 May 2008


  • State of physics teaching

  • What is PER and PER subfields

  • Challenges of PEP in Canada due to current funding model and our efforts to change it

  • Latest Canadian PER initiatives

  • Physics Education at Ryerson

  • Looking into the future

Current state of secondary science education in canada pisa 2006
Current State of Secondary Science Education in Canada: PISA 2006

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA):

57 countries took part in the assessment. Canada came up 3rd!

Only students from Finland and Hong-Kong, China outperformed Canadian students in science!

PISA2006 2006

  • However, science performance is uneven among the Canadian provinces.

  • Alberta is significantly better than any Canadian province, while Quebec, Ontario, and BC performed at the average level, and the rest of the provinces performed significantly below the Canadian average.

Challenges for postsecondary education
Challenges for Postsecondary Education 2006

  • Increasing expectations for student engagement and satisfaction

  • Meeting the needs caused by changing demographics

Changing demographics
Changing Demographics 2006

  • More people than ever before pursue post-secondary education

  • Large Classes (100-200 students is a new norm, some classes are up to ~1500 students)

  • In Ontario: younger population

  • Too many distractions

  • Many students are forced to work while going to school

Trends 2006

  • The transition from high school to university is very painful for many students

  • Many programs/universities report low graduation rates

  • The success or failure during the first year is a good predictor of student’s future at the university

  • Universities invest into lots of resources into first-year intervention to ease the transition (first-year offices, orientation courses, additional free tutoring, etc.) - but many of these measures are mostly subject non-specific

  • Drastic differences between high school and university in study culture and expectations are not taken into account yet

Ontario statistics
Ontario Statistics 2006

  • One out of 6 high school students takes grade 12 physics course

  • 95% of them pass the course

  • Overall, much lower success rate is reported in the University introductory physics courses

University introductory physics
University Introductory Physics 2006

Even by conservative estimates:

  • Up to 30% of those who attempt introductory physics courses, drop these courses and take them later

  • Up to 25-30% students fail introductory physics courses in their first attempt

  • “Minus 15% rule”- For those who pass, the grade is lower by 15% on average

Adjusting to university
Adjusting to University 2006

First –Year Student Survey 2007 at Ryerson:

A lower percentage of respondents (64% in 2007 compared to 78% in 2004), reported success with “performing adequately in courses requiring mathematical skills”

General population
General Population 2006

  • According to various estimates, only between 0.5% and 2% of university population major in Physics

  • Phobia of physics

  • The rest:

    Take required physics courses for engineering, pre- medical, other science programs or have no exposure to physics at all

“The task of the physics teacher today is to figure 2006

out how to help a much larger fraction of the

population understand how the world works, how to

think logically, and how to evaluate science”

Joe Redish

What is physics education research per per subfields
What is Physics Education Research (PER)? frustrating” PER Subfields

  • Cognitive mechanism

  • Curriculum and instruction

  • Epistemology and attitudes

  • Institutional change

  • Problem solving and reasoning

  • Research methods

  • Socio-cultural mechanisms

  • Student conceptions

  • Teacher education and TA training

  • Effective use of technology in teaching

What are we concerned with
What Are We Concerned With? frustrating”

  • empirical investigations of student understanding

  • modeling student learning

  • PER-based curricular materials (development, testing, evaluation, implementation)

  • PER-based diagnostic instruments and assessments-our research tools

Practicalities a four step scientific approach to teaching
Practicalities: A four-step, Scientific Approach to Teaching frustrating”

  • Establish what students should learn

  • Scientifically measure what students are actually learning

  • Adapt instructional methods and curriculum and incorporate effective use of technology and pedagogical research to achieve desired learning outcomes

  • Share findings, disseminate and adopt what works

    Four-step approach from Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI)

Tools using technology in science teaching
Tools: frustrating” Using Technology in Science Teaching

Interactive engagement in large lectures (Clickers)

Using live data collection (sensors and probes, LoggerPro) to provide students with the opportunity to test their ideas about science

Using video-based motion analysis

Using online computer simulations (PhET) in large lectures as well as in labs, tutorials and homework assignments

Using online interactive homework systems, such as MasteringPhysics

Evaluating impact action research
Evaluating Impact: frustrating” Action Research

To know where we are going:

  • Monitoring introduced changes

  • Pre- and post-instruction testing

  • Use of standardized conceptual tests for measuring the impact

Per in canada
PER in Canada frustrating”

  • Unlike the USA, Europe, Australia and Latin America, there are only few Physics Education groups in Canada

  • All PER initiatives in Canada happen despite the lack of PER funding on national and provincial levels

  • These initiatives are initiated by individuals, small groups and some universities

  • PER movement in Canada is building from the ground up!

Science education funding in canada
Science Education Funding in Canada frustrating”

Sc. Ed.


Latest development lobbying for funding model change
Latest Development: frustrating” Lobbying for Funding Model Change

  • Lobbying for joint committees of major Canadian

    granting agencies (NCERS, SSHRC and CIHR) to review

    grant applications in subject-based Science Education


  • Currently the signatures are being collected in the

    support of the initiative of Dr. M.Milner-Bolotin and

    Dr. P.Walden.

Looking into the future
Looking Into the Future frustrating”

Physics Education Research (as any subject-based science education research) requires consistent funding for research and curriculum development and evaluation, preferably from national granting agencies

Subject-based Science education research (PER in particular) should be centered at science departments

Science (physics) departments should be involved in the training of science teachers

Despite current obstacles a few canadian post secondary science education initiatives
Despite Current Obstacles… frustrating” A Few Canadian Post-Secondary Science Education Initiatives

University of British Columbia: Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI) - $12 million over 5 years, started January 2006. Funded by the University.

University of Toronto: Renovation of Undergraduate Physics Labs (studio-based physics teaching) - funded mainly by the University

Alan Slavin’s work at Trent University on Students’ Achievements in Introductory Physics Courses

A few canadian post secondary science education initiatives continued
A Few Canadian Post-Secondary Science Education Initiatives (continued)

Ryerson University: Hired two tenure track physics education faculty at the Department of Physics; the scope of our PER-related activities is growing

Perimeter Institute initiatives

Toronto District School Board (TDSB) involvement with PER

University of Calgary: Undergraduate Laboratory project funded by University, includes hiring postdoctoral researcher for PER-Latest development!

Carl wieman science education initiative cwsei
Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI) (continued)

University of British Columbia – Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI)

$12 million over 5 years, started January 2006. Funded by the University.

Science Education in the 21st Century: Using the Tools of Science to Teach Science

Achieving the most effective, evidence-based science education

Undergraduate physics labs at university of toronto
Undergraduate Physics Labs at University of Toronto (continued)

  • Renovation of Undergraduate Physics Labs (studio-based physics teaching)

  • 4.7 million

  • State-of-the-art studio: both space and equipment

  • Merging laboratory and tutorials, while preserving lectures

  • Impact study

The latest calgary initiative
The Latest! (continued) Calgary Initiative

  • Modernization of Undergraduate Physics Labs

  • Includes hiring a postdoctoral researcher to conduct PER

  • 2-year project funded by the University

  • Impact study

Ryerson developments
Ryerson Developments (continued)

  • Ryerson University: Hired two tenure track physics education faculty at the Department of Physics (2004 and 2007)

  • Two more faculty members are involved in PER on a part-time basis

  • The scope of our PER-related activities is increasing steadily

Tdsb activities
TDSB Activities (continued)

  • Conferences (for example, “Eureka” in November 2007)

  • Growing collaboration with Universities

  • Involvement with OAPT, STAO

  • Involvement with physics teachers training

  • Teachers’ professional development

Disclaimer (continued)

  • This is rather a snapshot, not a comprehensive account of physics education in Canada

  • Only relatively new developments and trends were mentioned

  • We might be not aware of some of the initiatives taking place

  • If you happen to know the groups that we did not mention, we would like to hear about them!

Physics education @ ryerson
Physics Education @ Ryerson (continued)


●BSc in Medical Physics

●MSc in Biomedical Physics

●Applied to OCGS for PhD in Biomedical Physics

●Long-term goal: MSc in Science (Physics) Education

Our faculty
Our Faculty (continued)

  • 15 faculty members (10 in Medical Physics, 2 in Physics Education)

  • Largest university-based Biomedical Physics group in Ontario

  • Physics Education is designated as our second area of expansion (2 full-time and 2 part-time faculty members)

  • We believe that we are the only Physics Department in Canada which hired tenure-track faculty for PER

We teach
We Teach… (continued)

  • Introductory physics courses for over 800 students in Engineering Programs

  • Introductory physics courses for over 300 students for Science Program (Medical Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Contemporary Science)

  • Our typical undergraduate physics classes have lecture section between 100 and 200 students

We teach continued
We Teach (continued)… (continued)

  • Advanced physics courses for our own undergraduate BSc program in Medical Physics

  • Graduate courses for our graduate MSc program in Biomedical Physics

  • Several elective courses for Liberal Arts Program (including very popular Astronomy course)

  • Innovative Course for Architectural Science Program (new!)

Bachelor of science in medical physics at ryerson university
Bachelor of Science in Medical Physics at Ryerson University (continued)

  • A new Bachelor of Science in Medical Physics program at Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario was launched in Fall 2006 (first intake of second-year students).

  • Small at first, but very strong group of students will graduate after Winter 2009

Bachelor of science in medical physics program at ryerson university
Bachelor of Science in Medical Physics Program at Ryerson University

  • Beyond first year courses include such topics as radiation therapy, image analysis, medical diagnostics and computer modeling techniques.

  • In the final year the students undertake an independent, faculty-supervised thesis project in an area of personal research interest.

Our graduate programs
Our Graduate Programs University

  • Master of Science in Biomedical Physics launched in Fall 2006

  • Our own MSc. Students will graduate this summer

  • Application for PhD program in Biomedical Physics is submitted to OCGS

  • Tentative plans for Master’s Program in Science Education (starting with Physics Education) fit well with the University’s Academic plan

Our per related activities
Our PER-Related Activities University

Common theme: the impact of new technologies on

students learning:

  • Clickers

  • Probe/sensor technologies for real-time data acquisition, Logger Pro

  • Interactive computer simulations (PhET)

  • On-line tutoring/homework systems (Mastering Physics)

  • Video-based motion analysis

    Our Goal: to implement activity-based, inquiry based learning in all our courses

Personal response systems
Personal Response Systems University

  • Our Department was instrumental in University-wide adoption of eInstruction clickers in Fall 2007

  • Members of our Department piloted clickers in several Physics courses for Science program students in 2005-2006

  • Currently clickers are used in several large enrollment physics courses for Sciences and Engineering programs

Our ongoing per activities
Our Ongoing PER Activities University

  • Plans for total undergraduate lab renovations (we are still in a fundraising stage)

  • Implementation of video-analysis assignments (in progress)

  • Action research in our introductory Physics course for Science programs (pre- and post- testing)

High School Physics Courses Experience and Learning Outcomes in University Introductory Physics Courses

The common introductory physics course for all Science Programs (~300 students) at Ryerson combines the students who took Ontario grade 12 high school physics or its equivalent, and those who did not

This natural split allowed us to probe how the previous exposure to high school physics influences the learning outcomes in the university introductory physics courses

Science programs class at ryerson
Science Programs Class Outcomes in University Introductory Physics Coursesat Ryerson

  • 60% took grade 12 physics course or equivalent

  • 40% did not

  • We teach them in one class

Fall 2007 did you take high school physics

0 Outcomes in University Introductory Physics Courses

128 of 200

Answer Now

FALL 2007: Did you take high school physics?

  • YES

  • NO


Our conclusions
Our Conclusions Outcomes in University Introductory Physics Courses

  • Although there are huge variations in individual performance, statistically, the knowledge gap between the two groups (with and without high school physics background) does not shrink after the instruction.

  • Course dropout rates are significantly higher among the students who did not take grade12 physics or equivalent

  • The high school exposure to sciences does matter!

  • We must communicate this information to the students, parents, teachers and high school counselors

Pilot study
Pilot study Outcomes in University Introductory Physics Courses

Impact of Student Major on their Achievement

in Introductory Physics

  • Implement pre- and post testing (FCI, FMCE)

  • Implement Attitude Towards Science surveys

Experiential learning
Experiential Learning Outcomes in University Introductory Physics Courses

  • Dr. Marina Milner-Bolotin developed innovative course (PCS107) for first-year students Architectural and Building Science Program

  • Dr. Carl Kumaradas will introduce project-based small-group learning in our second-year

    Introduction to Medical Physics course

High school university transition
High School-University Transition Outcomes in University Introductory Physics Courses

Why to collaborate?

  • Postsecondary and secondary education have similar goals: to provide successful student-centered teaching and learning

  • Face somewhat similar challenges

  • Both systems can benefit from sharing experiences and exchanging ideas

  • Help our students with smooth transition from high school to university

Mutual university high school visits
Mutual University-High School Visits Outcomes in University Introductory Physics Courses

  • In Fall 2007 David Doucette visited my PCS120 first year class for students enrolled in Sciences Programs

  • I visited grade 11, grade 12 and advanced placement physics classes in David’s high school in Richmond Hills.

  • University instructors can learn a lot from high school teachers: group work, inquiry-based teaching and student-centered approach

What we can offer
What We Can Offer Outcomes in University Introductory Physics Courses

  • To send our Faculty to your class to talk about Medical Physics and Biophysics

  • To invite your high school classes for a site visit at Ryerson

  • Once we get new teaching labs we will be able to provide workshops for teachers if needed

Looking into the future1
Looking Into the Future Outcomes in University Introductory Physics Courses

  • PER movement is gaining momentum at all levels of educational system

  • We hope there will be even more opportunities if the funding model problem gets solved

  • The community of educators is ready for a change, but the institutional support is needed for consistent and sustainable changes

Resources Outcomes in University Introductory Physics Courses

1. Antimirova, T., M. Milner-Bolotin, et al. "Physics Education on the Move in Canada" Newsletter of the International Consortium on Physics Education (ICPE), Spring 2008.

2. Milner-Bolotin, M. and T. Antimirova (2007). "Physics Education in Canada: Recent developments." Canadian Undergraduate Physics Journal VI(1): 28-29.

If you have any questions suggestions ideas please feel free to contact us

Phone: (416) 9795000 x 17416 Outcomes in University Introductory Physics Courses

Email: [email protected]

Tetyana Antimirova

Assistant Professor

Assistant Chair for the

Undergraduate Studies

Department of Physics

Ryerson University

Phone: (416) 9795000 x 16538

Email: [email protected]

Pedro Goldman

Professor and Chair

Department of Physics

Ryerson University

IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS… SUGGESTIONS… IDEAS…Please feel freeto contact us:

We would like to thank marina milner bolotin for providing some materials for this presentation

We would like to thank Marina Milner-Bolotin for providing some materials for this presentation.

Thank you
Thank you! some materials for this presentation.