Perimeter Teacher Network educators honoured for outstanding pedagogy

Karen Kennedy-Allin and Sarah Torrie have received awards for excellence in teaching.

Two high school teachers with ties to Perimeter have been named among this year’s most outstanding high school and CEGEP physics teachers in Canada.

Sarah Torrie, a teacher at Victoria Park Collegiate Institute in Toronto, won this year’s CAP Award for Excellence in Teaching High School/CEGEP Physics for the Ontario region, while Karen Kennedy-Allin, a teacher at Weyburn Comprehensive School in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, is the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in Saskatchewan. Both are members of Perimeter’s Teacher Network, a community of educators who test and share Perimeter’s classroom resources with their colleagues and students.

The awards recognize excellence in teaching high school physics, remarkable achievements in education, and commitment to preparing students for a digital and innovation-based economy.

Kennedy-Allin has been teaching science for more than 25 years. She was first introduced to Perimeter in 2008 through one of her gifted students, who encountered the Institute while researching for an extra assignment. The student told her about Perimeter’s EinsteinPlus bootcamp for teachers.

“I applied immediately,” recalls Kennedy-Allin. She was accepted to the camp that summer and joined the Teacher Network shortly after, which provided a venue to share lessons and pedagogy through workshops in her school division and at teacher conventions in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The biggest challenge she faces in putting together lessons on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) topics, she says, is the time it takes to gather resources and assemble them into comprehensive lessons.

“Often cost is a problem as well,” Kennedy-Allin says. “But usually, I just don’t have the time to search out, order, and set up the materials and equipment needed.”

That’s where Perimeter’s teaching resources can come in handy. The lessons are available for free by digital download and are designed to help teachers explain a range of STEM topics, including black holes, dark matter, quantum physics, relativity, the process of science, and more.

“I use Perimeter’s resources as often as possible. They are usually low cost and the materials are easy to find,” says Kennedy-Allin. “They are amazingly useful, because they help to address topics that are traditionally difficult to find resources for.”

Toronto high school teacher Torrie, who has been teaching for more than 16 years, echoes that sentiment. “So much of STEM involves embracing and learning from ‘failure,’ and that process takes time,” Torrie explains. “It also takes time to make sure your lesson includes cutting edge science.”

The lessons addressing recent hallmark events in physics, such as the detection of gravitational waves or the first image of a black hole, have been particularly useful to Torrie. The resources are editable and modular, which allows her to tailor them to the needs of her class. Plus, many come with physics primers to refresh the instructor on background related to the activity – a great time saver, she says.

The resources are developed by scientists and teachers in order to keep pace with current pedagogy, such as inquiry-based and student-driven learning. “Problem solving in isolation can be a daunting task,” says Torrie. “Discussing and investigating physics as a team helps students build a knowledge base in a supportive environment that still makes them accountable and responsible for their learning.”

Torrie, too, is a previous EinsteinPlus participant. “It was the best professional development I ever had,” she says. “It is really encouraging to realize that there is such a big, supportive community of physicists and teachers out there.”

Ultimately, Torrie says, the best teachers are the ones that never stop learning. “Great teachers reflect upon their practice and continually improve. They have to be able to adapt to new situations. Every class is different. Every student is different. Every day is different.”

Both Kennedy-Allin and Torrie say that receiving their awards is both an honour and a humbling experience.

“I would like to sincerely dedicate this award to all the teachers that shared their skills and practices with me over the past 25 years,” says Kennedy-Allin. “I especially want to thank the Perimeter Institute and all the teachers that have attended EinsteinPlus as participants and facilitators. The way that I taught changed significantly after my first time attending in 2008, and I have continued to grow ever since.” 

- Stephanie Keating




About Perimeter Institute

Perimeter Institute is the world’s largest research hub devoted to theoretical physics. The independent Institute was founded in 1999 to foster breakthroughs in the fundamental understanding of our universe, from the smallest particles to the entire cosmos. Research at Perimeter is motivated by the understanding that fundamental science advances human knowledge and catalyzes innovation, and that today’s theoretical physics is tomorrow’s technology. Located in the Region of Waterloo, the not-for-profit Institute is a unique public-private endeavour, including the Governments of Ontario and Canada, that enables cutting-edge research, trains the next generation of scientific pioneers, and shares the power of physics through award-winning educational outreach and public engagement.

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“So much of STEM involves embracing and learning from ‘failure,’ and that process takes time.”

- Sarah Torrie, physics teacher at Victoria Park Collegiate Institute