Monday, March 23, 2020

Online Resources for Teaching Physics

Howdy all,

First, I'd like to thank my friend and colleague, Dean Baird, for inviting me to be a guest blogger here at The Blog of Phyz. Briefly, I've been teaching high school and college-level physics since 1998, and in that time I've seen a lot—but nothing like what we're all dealing with now.

In addition to my teaching duties, I am the secretary and webmaster of Physics Northwest (group of physics teachers in the suburbs north and west of Chicago), and we've worked with our own teacher network as well as the TAP-L email list to assemble a long list of available online resources for teaching physics. This list of information has been posted to the front page of the Physics Northwest website at

Update 3/28/20: Here's a new and improved Google Sheet version of Matt's collection that we've been working on: Physics Distance Learning Resources. Consider it Version 1.0, and load us up with links we missed down in the comments. Remember: Google Sheets can have tabs. This sheet has four tabs (so far). Check them all out.

I apologize that the list isn't formatted and organized yet, as I've been busy tackling my own struggles with online teaching this past week, but now that I'm on spring break I'll have some time to tweak the list (so stay tuned). Any suggestions for additions and/or edits are welcome.

Take care, folks. It's a rough time for the lot of us, but in times like this I like to remind myself of the old Marine Corps motto: Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.

Cheers - Matt Lowry
[Matt has been my presentation partner for "Skepticism in the Classroom" workshops at AAPT and NSTA Meetings. To see our first collaboration, check this out! And if you click the Physics Northwest link above, you will see a collection of great physics teachers, some of whom you may know from Twitter or elsewhere. Matt's in the fourth quadrant in the fashionable "Keep Calm" T. –Dean]

Thursday, March 19, 2020

My path for instruction during coronavirus...

might be different from yours. And chances are, yours will be more robust than mine.

The physics instructor (and high school instructor) social media sphere is rife with tales of how best to lead online courses complete with live video lectures. A tidal wave of software tool recommendations have flooded in. Solutions that were previously subscription-based are suddenly free. Industrious instructors are assembling indexes of quality resources. Online instructional veterans are posting pro tips for the flood of novices.

All of this is appropriate, natural, and good. And I am completely overwhelmed.

Whatever path colleagues take into the uncharted waters of this coronavirus transmission break is correct as far as I am concerned. There is no One True Path for this. Different districts have communicated different expectations. Different teachers have different students and different temperaments and different resources and different abilities. One size cannot fit all.

My district has directed instructors to make themselves available to students via virtual office hours from 8:30-10:30am and 12:30-2:30pm each school day. No new assignments are to be given. No student work is to be graded. I am in a suburban unified school district (about 38,000 students at 50 sites). The district is not 1:1 (one computer for each student). We were duly warned that giving assignments or grading work online would likely constitute a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In the face of my trepidation, I pulled back for a little perspective.

When we left school last Friday, this break was going to be shockingly long: no classes for a month. Administrators would continue to report to their respective sites in the interim. Classroom access would be allowed for instructors (6am-6pm). Less than a week later, our sites are now abandoned shut—alarms are armed 24/7. Counties are on shelter-in-place or full lockdown. The governor does not foresee schools reopening this academic year. This is objectively a full stop.

Students have been thrown into an unprecedented spiral of lost activities (sports and other extracurriculars, prom, graduation). Their parents may be newly unemployed. Families with lost incomes wondering how they will obtain groceries amid the hoarding. They may have loved ones suffering from COVID-19, and they should be doing what they can to avoid being a vector for the contagion.

So how pressing is the physics curriculum to my students? Answers will vary. But I think it's safe to presume that it's less than it was a week ago. Substantially less.

What to do? I don't know. Here's what I've settled on.

I already have a decent "static" online physics curriculum presence at Much to read, many worksheets to do. Students do have their textbooks. And the Internet bursts with resources. I am going to encourage my students to learn the remainder of the year's curriculum. To learn it as if they were going to have their final exam at the end of the school year. My final exams focus on the big, important ideas that should be internalized by the end of the semester.

As is always the case, learning physics is a conscious choice. Some students choose to learn physics without ever having enrolled in the course. Many students enroll in the course but never choose to learn physics. It has always been thus.

I will be in contact with my students through the school's SIS mass email feature to provide direction for how they can engage in learning. We will not have all the labs, activities, and demonstrations that face-to-face classroom instruction would afford. The learning may not be as robust. But the big ideas and fundamental principles should get through.

So that's my path. Providing some resources and guidance, with the student goal of being able to perform well on the semester final exam. With that vision, I feel like I can move forward.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

The CAASPP Practice items ... were online a year ago

The CAASPP / CAST practice / training / released test questions were apparently posted on Monday, February 24, 2020.

The hope I had nourished for them was in vain.

I had hoped for new items. Improved items. Robust items. But that's not what we got.

What we got last year's released items with newer publication dates and new graphics on the cover. If anything of substance has changed between last year's released items and this year's released items, someone will need to let me know in the comments.

CAASPP Practice Items (51—the same 51 released last year, so read about them here.)

CAASPP Training Items (7—All Life Science items. And all of them previously released.)

I've clearly been taking this new round of assessments far too seriously. When I'm wrong, I'm wrong.