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By Leah Poffenberger
Since 2005, PhysicsQuest kits packed with experimental materials have been sent to classrooms around the country, giving middle school students and teachers a chance to dive into hands-on physics activities. This year, the kits will go out as usual, but since classrooms might look a little different with virtual content, PhysicsQuest is following suit with new features, available online for free.
“Thanks to funding from the Eucalyptus Foundation to improve our virtual presence, we will be able to improve how we engage with PhysicsQuest users and put out online content throughout the year,” says Claudia Fracchiolla, APS Head of Public Engagement. “We’re adding new videos, extension activities using Python, and opportunities for virtual engagement between students and physicists.”
For each activity included in a PhysicsQuest kit, teachers will have access to videos explaining experimental setups to help illustrate how to best achieve results in the classroom. Videos covering the science behind each experiment will also be available for teachers and students alike, helping to connect scientific concepts with the hands-on work. Four additional extension activities will let students dive deeper into these concepts while gaining familiarity with the Python programming language.
“With the extension activities, students will get a chance to understand science content with coding,” says Fracchiolla. “The activities will have pre-written code so students can input parameters to see the physics outcome, but they’ll also have access to the code to edit, add to, and learn to de-bug.”
Another virtual component in the works is Q&A sessions with physicists, to let students ask questions and meet the real people behind the science they’ve learned in the classroom. The PhysicsQuest program is currently seeking volunteers who might be interested in participating and inspiring future physicists. To sign up, visit the forrm.
This year’s experiment kit, which will be shipped out in November, explores concepts of force and motion from dropped objects to pendulums to spinning motion. As students learn about the science, they’ll also have the opportunity to learn about the work of Katherine Johnson, a NASA scientist instrumental in the efforts to put humans on the moon.
“We want to advertise names of scientists students may not know who have made huge contributions to physics,” says James Roche, APS Public Engagement Program Manager. “This year the experiments deal with force and motion, which have direct connections to the awesome work Johnson did with orbital motion.”
Adding virtual components to the already wildly popular PhysicsQuest kits—20,000 are sent to classrooms each year reaching more than 185,000 students—comes at an ideal time as many schools face online and hybrid learning, but many of these features were already in the works.
“Adding virtual components to PhysicsQuest wasn’t directly inspired by COVID-19 since we started developing them last year, but we’re launching at the perfect time,” says Roche. “The stars are aligning to help us increase participation and reach more students.”
Signups to receive a PhysicsQuest kit are available on the PhysicsQuest website but each experiment can be done with objects found around the house. Students working at home can take advantage of the free, online content to build experiments using whatever materials they have on hand.
Connect with PhysicsQuest and keep up with virtual events, including physics Q&As on Instagram @physicscentral. For more about PhysicsQuest and other educational resources, visit physicscentral.com.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik