Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Taking Physics Across the Border

Earlier this month, Daniel Welty (@weltyteaching) contacted me about possibly having our two grade 11 physics classes collaborate and get feedback from each other. His honors physics students are using blogs to document and communicate their learning

While they aren't doing the exact same things we are doing in SPH3U, it was a great opportunity to make good on one of my year-long goals to have my students collaborate and connect with other classes around the world.

So we took a virtual trip from Manitoulin Secondary (Manitoulin Island, Ontario), to Algonquin High (Northborough, Massachusetts)! 

Connecting classes across the border!

Daniel's tweet to me came at just the right time - our class was just finishing up kinematics with projectile motion, and about to start a new unit on work and energy. 

I created a small communication assignment so my students could get both a review of their past work, as well as a preview of the upcoming unit through these blogs, while at the same time seeing how other students were problem-solving:

An important piece of this assignment was the digital citizenship component of how to comment on blog posts. Blog-writing is much less formal than report-writing. By perusing through a blog you can really get a feel for the author's personality, making it easier to connect with the writer. 

And my students did make those connections! They were drawn to the blogs of their American counterparts with similar hobbies or senses of humour. Because of this, though, we had to be careful to not be nonchalant in a comment, as if commenting on a friend's work. 

The guide given in the assignment worked pretty well, and gave my students a good starting point for their comments. Most of the students provided thorough and well-worded replies.

Exploring the blogs


One of these days, I will remember that activities like this ALWAYS take longer than I think they might! Whereas I planned on having my students comment on the blogs for 20-30 minutes, the activity ended up taking the whole 70-minute period. There were some issues (see below), but for the most part, students were earnestly putting in time to explore the blogs and write good comments.

They loved learning about the students at Algonquin HS, and there were lots of comments in-class on how the experiments performed by the other class were the same or different than what we had done. They also loved the life-sized cardboard cutouts of R2-D2 and Sheldon Cooper Daniel's class had. :)

Commenting on blogs

We lucked out in that the day we did this, our classes occurred at the same time. Daniel connected his students with our class through a map as well, noting that a large park to the east of us (Algonquin Provincial Park) shares the same name as their high school. They even used Google Translate to learn how to pronounce my last name, "Theijsmeijer" (it does a surprisingly accurate job!). :)

My students were also interested in how Mr. Welty and I connected in the first place - it's rare that they hear of social media to collaborate professionally, so it was nice to address that in class. I had a running conversation between Daniel and myself through Twitter up on the board for them to see as the class progressed.

On the whole, my students really liked the idea of using a blog to demonstrate learning (though some expressed that they didn't want to write blogs themselves!). It's something I'd like to consider for future courses as it was such a nice connection piece.

Commenting on blogs


As noted in the assignment, there were indeed some issues with getting around our Internet filter (blogspot.com is blocked, but blogspot.ca - which is really the same thing - is not). It's a manual fix, but it led to a little bit of frustration initially.

The biggest issue was that many of the students were not able to get to the comment boxes on the blogs. I had never seen this issue before, and didn't anticipate it whatsoever. For those students, I had them write their comments in a Google Doc or email and send them to me to be posted later. Annoying, but not a huge obstacle in the end.

Exploring the blogs

Next Steps?

Daniel is going to have his students look at their comments and then reply in kind. Many of my students indicated that they were interested in getting to know their counterparts more, perhaps by collaborating on an assignment/lab, or connecting via Google Hangout. The idea of becoming "penpals" or visiting Northborough even came up! ("We can take a plane there," they said. "That's PHYSICS!") 

We will definitely be seeking opportunities to have the two classes connect again.

Go Mustangs!


  1. Thank you so much Heather for collaborating! It was fun to hear how excited your Ss were to read about what my Ss were doing in a similar physics class. I appreciate the time you took to blog the Ss comments yourself and the fact that you made it a REAL assignment. I will work the next week to get my Ss to review comments and follow up.

  2. This is exactly the kind of activity that gets me super excited. With so many connection tools out there, making a real-life connection with another classroom becomes so possible. I also loved that your students had to work through what good commenting looks like. There is a lot of learning in being able to evaluate another's post and make meaningful comments on it. I hope other upper level course teachers can see that the time invested in learning that leverages our connected world is doable and worth it!


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