Modern Physics Boot Camp

Eager and excited I arrived in Waterloo, Ontario last Sunday for a week of learning Modern Physics at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Joining 40 other Canadian educators, 8 international teachers, our 5 leaders and a few theoretical physicists was promising to be a most excellent (and educational week).

Sunday: Introductions and A little bit of Polarizing

We began our week with supper and some meet and greet. Of course, being teachers, ice breakers HAD to occur; thankfully, these ice breakers were physics oriented and set an excellent tone for the week. We jumped right into an exploratory activity on polarization and we were pulled out of our comfort zone and asked to ACT! (We would get very used to this throughout the week).

Monday: Exploring the Particle Zoo

No waiting for this crowd; we were thinking RIGHT AWAY! Activities, conceptual questions, and exploration activities all designed around particle physics (my least comfortable area of modern physics) shed some light on some less than straightforward content. After having a key note on Cosmology, re-covering what felt like my entire 2nd year of university, and learning the subatomic world a little better – I was fried! The day didn’t end there as we headed to a pub to get to know each other, and of course, discuss more physics 🙂

Tuesday: Where are we?

Tuesday was all about relativity and its applications. We covered both special and general relativity – both of which I had a weak grasp on previously, as well as GPS and relativistic applications. It was all starting to fall into place and the learning curve seemed a little less exponential. My favourite part about this day was the EXTREMELY relevant lessons for ‘junior’ (grade 8 – 10) sciences – especially because, more often than not, physics gets either shortened or (even worse) completely cut to make time for chemistry and/or biology portions of the course. I am definitely taking these ideas back!

Wednesday: Some Gravity and Potential Energy

We started the day off with some discussion on gravity and energy in our world. We also had a FANTASTIC keynote presentation by Natalia Toro on the LHC and the search for the Higgs Particle. After this we headed out to Niagra Falls for a much needed brain break!


Thursday: Going Quantum

One of my favourite days, quantum reality, its implications and applications were all explored here. I am quite comfortable with the ideas behind quantum mechanics, the double slit experiment, and polarization (having explored these a lot in Physics 2o when I taught it) but I had NEVER thought about taking students to the level of combining these topics into conceptual explorations. I particularly enjoyed the tour of the Institute for Quantum Computing – from a basic quantum computer to splitting a photon for use of entanglement this was SUPER interesting.

Friday: Black Holes and Gravity and Galaxies, Oh My!

Friday was spent covering cosmological topics – dark matter, black holes, gravity, orbits, and galaxies. Topics were discussed as applications from grades 8/9 – 12. I have previously attempted a discussion on dark matter in my Physics 30 class, but now I have something concrete to build from! We finished the day up with Karaoke – including a re-worded song about our week at Physics camp!

Walls were covered with Chalkboards for writing wherever you were.

All in all, this week at the Perimeter Institute was absolutely AMAZING!  For anyone who teaches physics, I STRONGLY recommend that you look into their numerous teacher resources (available free to Canadian teachers) and outreach activities. Generally, these resources include a video/multimedia resource, question sheets, and suggested teaching activities.
This past week was probably THE BEST professional development that I have ever experienced. I had a chance to connect with Physics teachers across my province, my country, and the world. I feel extremely blessed to have been given this opportunity and I CANNOT wait to introduce and integrate these activities and my new knowledge into my classroom this fall. Although, I may just have to talk my administration into getting me more physics courses (and subsequently less math) in the future 😉


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