As the beginning of the school year gets underway I ask myself this question:

What learning environment will I provide so that my students can’t wait ’til the next class?

I believe that every person is unique and every child can learn, but I recognize that students learn best when engaged — where expectations are appropriately challenging within an environment that is both safe and that contributes to the dignity and self-worth of all. Students respond to encouragement and to a structuring of time and activities that reinforces their striving to meet and exceed those expectations while at the same time recognizing their increasing capacity to manage responsibility and independence.

I also believe that engagement depends on quality interactions resulting from connections that happen inside and outside of the classroom.

Here are some of the Connections = Engagement ideas I will use this year to make learning exciting and enjoyable in my Honors Physics classes:

1. I will engage my students by making connections to their passions. Some examples:


Our first major project is to design a special issue for a sports magazine (similar to “Sports Illustrated”) for their selected sport. This project will engage them as they construct their knowledge of the concepts of kinematics and forces.


As part of our unit in waves and sound, the students will design and build their own musical instrument. Our last day of school before the holidays in December, my students will create and perform their own Physics Carols.


For the sixth year, my students will participate in the AAPT Photo Contest, taking their own photos and explaining the physics behind them. In the past two years we’ve had three students showcased at the AAPT Summer Meetings where their photos have been admired by hundreds of physics teachers and professors from around the world.

Take a look at their blog posts where they explain the physics concepts behind their photo projects:

2. I will engage my students by making connections to popular digital games. 

Take a look at our classroom bulletin board: Students were thrilled when they found out that I am an Angry Birds fan (who isn’t?).

We will have an opportunity to do a quantitative analysis of the game in order to answer some of these questions:

  • What is the mass of each of the Angry Birds?
  • What is the gravitational field in Angry Birds world?
  •  Is momentum conserved when the blue bird splits into three?
  • Does the white bird accurately depicts projectile motion when it drops an egg?
  • Using energy conservation, calculate the coefficient of restitution when a bird bounces off the wall.

(Thank you to Frank Noschese for the great ideas!)

3. I will engage my students by making connections to the physics concepts through investigations and experimentation.

The development of physics concepts occurs best in a hands-on, inquiry-based environment. My students will design and test their own investigations as opposed to just following directions in cookbook type labs. Here is an example. For the unit of Simple Harmonic Motion, my students will investigate the factors affecting the period of a pendulum. The culminating activity of this unit will be their constructing their own snake pendulum just like this one:


  4. I will engage my students by facilitating their connection to the world through their own blogs.

The use of digital tools will afford them the opportunity to deepen their skills in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and      creation.  At the same time, as part of a connected global community, my students will become self-starters who can model and coach while knowing how to learn and share with transparency and respect.


5. I will engage my students by enabling them to connect their learning progress to our physics learning objectives.

Our current educational systems, in both public and independent schools force the students to focus on their grades as opposed to focusing on their learning. I have modified my grading policy to shift this focus from “getting an A” to “becoming proficient” in physics.  I will implement a modified version of performance-based assessment.

My students have received a copy of our Learning Objectives. As we move through the topics they have the responsibility of keeping track of their progress. Their final grades will reflect their most recent learning. One nice caveat of this approach is the opportunity to skip homework assignments if they have mastered a specific topic. (Shhh, don’t tell them yet!)

6. I will engage my students by making professional connections:

a. With my colleagues at school.

Working together in vertical and horizontal teams will allow me to bring opportunities for cross-curricular activities that will enrich my students’ learning experience.

b. By participating in vibrant learning communities through Twitter and blogs and connecting with members of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) I will continue to grow as a learner and an educator.

I would love to hear your strategies for having your students engaged through connections!


Image credits: Two figures; Heart, Social media


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Dolores Gende

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