9th Grade Physics Reimagined: A Spotlight on Experiential Physics

9th Grade Physics Reimagined: A Spotlight on Experiential Physics

Jen Spencer with Physics StudentsIn 2019, BHS launched Experiential Physics, a three-year pilot program to develop a new curriculum for 9th grade Physics, supported by a grant from the BHS Innovation Fund. The redesigned course develops scientific, engineering, and entrepreneurial skills and teaches students collaborative, real-world approaches to designing solutions to today’s scientific problems. We caught up with three physics teachers, Julia Mangan, Jennifer Spencer, and Stacy Kissel, who shared their views on the new Experiential Physics course curriculum and teaching approach. Their collective insights are captured in the Q&A below.

Q: Why was it important to redesign the physics curriculum?

State standards and practices now call for an increased focus on the skills students develop in 9th grade physics. As a result, we were inspired to reimagine learning in 9th grade physics to be more applicable to physics in the real world! Our approach has become less teacher-driven and more student-focused. We attended two intensive training seminars to learn more about the Modeling Approach to teaching physics and how to teach students to work together collaboratively, take risks, and communicate productively.

Students will participate in a variety of projects, activities and labs to give them a broad sense of what it means to “do” science—this emphasis was missing from our previous curriculum. We are developing the “story of physics” through multiple lenses including student learning through content, skills development, and the many different “hats” students wear throughout the year.

Q: What are some of the new ways you are covering physics material?

We wanted students to learn physics through doing and not just learning facts, placing greater value on the process of science. We’re spending more time teaching students more explicitly how to ask questions like scientists do and how to answer them right in the classroom. We’ve added more hands-on experiments in which students test hypotheses and carry out procedures, analysis of data, and online research.

We have created and piloted a new project across the 9th grade asking students to apply content learned in the waves unit (sound, light, etc.) to explain how organisms use waves to communicate and sense the world around them. Students can take a deeper dive into how the content connects to the real world, both with how human ears and eyes work as well as how other organisms have evolved different ways to use sound waves and light waves for sensing and communication.

We will also be doing a unit on nuclear physics at the end of the year. This is a topic we have not previously taught to freshmen.

Q: How does the new curriculum impact the experience of students?

The goals for student learning are to push beyond learning about science and to focus on learning how to do science. This involves many skills that scientists employ, such as learning how to ask good questions, using discussion skills to make good predictions, designing experiments that answer their questions, using research tools to see what other researchers have learned, and creating mathematical and computational models that describe the real world for the purpose of answering questions.

We’ve received informal feedback from students that they love learning this way! We are regularly hearing students refer back to the common experience of each unit as they make new connections that push their understanding deeper.

Our activities and projects are designed to better meet the needs of all students regardless of background knowledge. For example, students who typically aren’t engaged in the learning of science, but loved tinkering with circuits, spent time creating a complicated device that worked in unique and challenging ways.

Q: What have you learned in the first few months teaching the new curriculum?

It has been so exciting to have the time and opportunity to be creative in defining this shift in science instruction!

We’re still trying to cover the same breadth of physics material but deeper learning requires more time for students to both learn and practice the skills of a scientist. Students seem excited to apply their knowledge through in-depth projects (so far, building a complex working circuit and researching an organism’s ability to create and use sound/light waves).

Rolling out a new curriculum has pushed us to collaborate more closely across our 9th grade physics teachers to create a more consistent experience for students. We’re creating a central place and strategy for documenting the what, the how, and the collective wisdom of the physics department. We have managed to capture most of what teachers are doing in their classrooms and, in year 2, we will evaluate and refine this documentation.

Q: How will the BHS expansion with updated classrooms and the new STEM wing support this course?

The new classrooms will be larger and more effectively designed than the previous ones at BHS. Desk seating will be in the middle of the room and tall lab tables will be located around the perimeter. Separate instruction and lab work areas will allow students to set up and leave long-term experiments, or exploratory stations, out and accessible in the classroom for longer periods of time. This will provide students with more opportunities to explore something in the beginning at the surface level, and then go back to it throughout the unit as they learn more and are able to ask deeper questions.

Global Leadership fundraises for Turkey after earthquake

Global Leadership fundraises for Turkey after earthquake


Sophia Su, Staff Writer https://thecypressonline.com/

For members of the Turkish and Syrian diaspora, Feb. 6 will mark a day of mass destruction and devastation. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake along the Turkey-Syria border left millions displaced, thousands dead and put reconstruction costs in the billions.

Within a week of the disaster, students in Global Leadership, an elective course designed to educate students about modern-day challenges across the world, shifted their efforts to aiding the crisis. The class organized fundraisers, set up donation centers and spread awareness around the community.

Sophomore Sasha Harwin, a student in Global Leadership, said that despite the project being teacher facilitated, students took initiative and led the fundraising process.

“When we learned about the earthquake, we dropped everything else and immediately started to brainstorm ways we could help Turkey and Syria. Going in, we already knew there were going to be donation aspects, but we also wanted to put a big emphasis on spreading awareness around the school,” Harwin said.

Due to the urgency of the issue, the class had minimal time to prepare and organize logistics. They ultimately broke up into four separate groups to cover all bases: awareness, publicity, in-kind donations and monetary donations. Harwin said that each student was able to choose their own group, and everybody remained passionate about their work.

“The whole thing came together so fast and everybody stayed accountable,” Harwin said. “It’s a real and dire issue, so everyone was willing to help out in their free time.”

Harwin was a member of the awareness team, and gave presentations to World Language classes to generate more attention on the issue. Harwin and her team also reached out to all Brookline Public Schools to set up more donation centers. Despite only successfully connecting with Baker and Florida Ruffin Ridley school, she said that the team still managed to amass nearly twenty large bags of clothes, tents and blankets.

The class initially planned to send the in-kind donations to the Turkish embassy; however, their recently updated donation requirements forced the group to look elsewhere to donate. Harwin said that although she is disappointed with the unexpected change, she is still happy to know that they are able to donate everything to Cradles-to-Crayons and On-the-Rise, two local and dedicated organizations.

“It still feels so empowering because for most projects we do, we just talk and learn about big disasters in the world, but this felt so real because we’re actually going to make a difference for the first time,” Harwin said.

For junior Yoni Tsapira, a member of the monetary donations team, fundraising was also a new experience that he said will stick with him. His group managed to raise over $9,000 dollars through a GoFundMe page in two weeks and was only a few hundred dollars short of their ten-thousand dollar goal. He said that the GoFundMe is still active, but the class is planning to deposit their donations to UNICEF soon, a United Nations agency dedicated to providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children.

“It’s really cool to know that we as high school students can have a real impact,” Tsapira said. “If you think that you’re just a teenager and can’t do much, well, you can—because we just did something.”

Global Leadership teacher Roger Grande said that overall, he considers the fundraising efforts to be a major success for reasons beyond just the money raised.

“It was great that we achieved our goal, but it was so powerful because the students saw what they could do; it was both a real life effort and a classroom effort,” Grande said. “What I wanted them to take away from this project is what I want them to take away from this class in general: that they are insightful, their thoughts are real, and that they are powerful; that they are changemakers.”

Spotlight on BHS Teacher Stacy Kissel: Creating Inspirational Curriculum from Tutorial to 9th Grade Physics

Spotlight on BHS Teacher Stacy Kissel: Creating Inspirational Curriculum from Tutorial to 9th Grade Physics

The Brookline High School Innovation Fund offers many unique opportunities to both faculty and students that can enhance their experience at BHS. Students have the ability to take an array of unique classes covering topics ranging from global current events to engineering and design. Faculty are also able to participate in many different programs that can add even more value to the work they are already doing at the high school. Through participation in these programs, teachers are able to support and create lasting connections with individual students, find inspiration and value as an educator, and have the ability to create or refine curriculum. Stacy Kissel is a teacher who has been able to experience all of those things through her time working with the Innovation Fund.

Establishing Tutorial as an Academic Resource

Kissel started working as a physics teacher at BHS in 1998. She became involved with the Innovation Fund very early on in its existence after former headmaster Bob Weintraub helped establish it at BHS. Throughout her time at the high school, Kissel has been involved in a number of different programs supported by the fund. She was one of the first teachers to participate in Tutorial, and most recently she has been working with other physics teachers to develop a curriculum for a new physics course. “I heard former Head of School Bob Weintraub talking about it during the early days when he was still raising money for this idea to encourage creativity in the school, and to give teachers opportunities to pilot new classes, and he was just so enthusiastic about it,” she explains. After hearing about a new program called Tutorial, Kissel knew that this was something she wanted to get involved in. As a part of the first group of Tutorial teachers, Kissel was able to collaborate with other teachers and decide what Tutorial should be and how it should work. “There were eight of us meeting to come up with what Tutorial is. We met frequently and talked about what the ideal model is and what we can do with the resources we have, and that was a very collaborative experience, since that was a completely new program.” Eighteen years later, Tutorial is a class where students can receive individualized support to help with their studies. Students work with their Tutorial teachers to identify areas where they can improve their academic performance, and spend their class time receiving support from their teachers and doing independent work. Tutorial continues to be a program that many students benefit from.

Throughout her involvement in Tutorial, Kissel gained a lot more insight into the daily schedules of her students outside of the physics classroom. She explains, “I think early on with Tutorial, it sort of changed me in that I got to see the big picture of a student’s day.” When previously she only knew what students were doing within the walls of her classroom, teaching Tutorial allowed her to see what students were learning in other courses. “It was especially great for me to see what the kids were doing in math, and how that meshed with what we were doing in physics.” Being more aware of the other work students were doing was also a way that Kissel made sure she wasn’t assigning a large physics project on top of other large assignments they were working on for other classes, as not to overwhelm them.

Another benefit Kissel gained from teaching Tutorial were the connections she was able to make with her students. She really valued having meaningful relationships with students and really appreciated it when there were opportunities for her to create those meaningful relationships. Tutorial was one place where Kissel could begin to do so. When Tutorial started only 40 kids in the entire school were enrolled, so for the first few years she taught Tutorial with the same teacher every year and had the same kids in her class. “There was a kid, for example, that I had freshman year in my physics class, and then I had in Tutorial sophomore, junior, and senior years. I had that kid for four years of high school and I knew him so well by the end, and that was at the beginning of the program, but what I loved about Tutorial was that they’re with the same teacher and you’re with the same kid.” In this case, Kissel was able to create and maintain a relationship with that student throughout the four years they were at BHS. Although the program has changed and grown a lot over the years, and teachers no longer have the same students every year, she says that you still get to know the students very well. “Even just one year with kids, you get to know them so well having them in a small group four times a week.”

Building Connections with Students
There have been a number of ways Kissel has been able to create bonds with students throughout her career, whether it was simply in her physics classroom, or during her time teaching at the Old Lincoln School, or accompanying BHS students on the Chinese Exchange program. One experience that really stood out from our conversation was from the Family Partnership program. The Family Partnership program, founded in 2007, was a program in partnership with the BHS guidance department that was working towards narrowing the achievement gap between students. Part of the purpose of the program, as explained by Kissel, was to “Team up with ninth graders who were identified as being kids who might just slip through the cracks. They weren’t the most struggling students or necessarily on their teacher’s radar, but kids who would probably struggle a bit, but not enough to ever warrant the attention of their guidance counselor or dean.” Teachers would get paired up with one or two students, and they would meet up once a week so that the students could have a trusted adult in the school that they could turn to if they ever needed help and didn’t know where to get it from. Kissel was paired up with two students that she met with that year, but it was with one student that she was really able to create a lasting relationship. Every week the two of them would go to Virginia’s Cafe near the high school and talk over a piece of cake or tea. “We just really connected. We liked some of the same things; we both really liked cats and we are both interested in Japanese culture, and we just bonded over random things like that.” Even though the program wasn’t integrated after the first three years, Kissel continued to meet with the student constantly throughout their four years of high school. Their relationship continued even after the student graduated from BHS, meeting up a few times each year, and most recently meeting up for a socially distanced picnic outside. “She’s now 28! And because we are both vaccinated now, she recently came over for dinner. We’re not in touch everyday, but she is a person who I will text about things or email or we’ll meet up and go to a movie or go out to dinner. It’s been great because as a teacher, there is generally this borderline and some things you aren’t really supposed to do with your students, like go out to a cafe after school, but in this program that’s what you did and it was nice that it broke down that boundary between teacher and student.”

Reimagining 9th Grade Physics
Aside from allowing Kissel to build upon her relationships with her students, the Innovation Fund has also given her another really valuable gift. During the 2019-2020 school year, Kissel worked with other teachers to create the new curriculum for 9th grade physics. While Kissel has worked collaboratively with other teachers in the past, it’s nothing like how they have been able to work together now because of this grant. “I have definitely worked collaboratively with teachers over the years somewhat, but it’s usually after school, you’re tired and then you walk into someone’s room and they might have some interesting lab setup that you talk about and then you might collaborate on something, or talk during lunch or during the little collaboration time we have built into our schedule. But having time set aside each week for deliberate collaboration with other physics teachers is something that I really have not had in this quantity.” The physics teachers are completing year two of a three year grant to develop a new course, but it’s already given them something that they don’t often get, which is time. “I think really one of the most important things that the fund does is give teachers course release time so that they can collaborate with other teachers during the school day as opposed to collaborating after school when you have a pile of papers waiting for you and other commitments. As a teacher there’s just never enough time to plan everything you want to do, and that really is the best gift, the gift of time; it’s the biggest gift that the fund can give.”

Apart from the collaborative time Kissel had to spend working with other teachers, developing the new course has also had an impact on the teaching she is doing in her own physics classroom. “It has changed my teaching to encourage more collaboration among students, more hands-on activities especially for projects, and also a deeper development of scientific skills or mathematical skills like graphing, but also just skills of asking questions and working with others in a group in a constructive way. So my work with the fund course definitely has changed my way of teaching.” As a result, students get to participate in engaging assignments and learn valuable skills that they will continue to benefit from throughout their time at BHS.

— Interview by Maya Rozen, BHS Alumna, July 2020

2020-21 Grant Announcements: Nearly $250,000 Invested in New Programs

2020-21 Grant Announcements: Nearly $250,000 Invested in New Programs

COVID-19 Teaching and Learning Response Grant

$55,000 investment

The BHS Innovation Fund is excited to award a special COVID-19 Teaching and Learning Response Grant to Brookline High School educators in Summer 2020. Reacting with urgency to the unprecedented change in the educational environment due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Innovation Fund recently spearheaded an effort to offer new grant funding, outside of our annual budget, for targeted faculty summer workshops. Funding these workshops will provide more than 30 educators from 7 departments the opportunity to collaborate simultaneously to address academic skill gaps, assess remote learning, share best practices and build community for students for the 2020-21 school year.


COVID-19 Response Planning Grants

$5,500 investment

The BHS Innovation Fund has offered short-term Planning Grants to faculty members who want to initiate innovative standalone projects or explore an opportunity to develop a full course proposal in the upcoming year. As part of our COVID-19 response, we are supporting the following faculty projects:

  • Special Education Department (Faculty — Alissa Parker and Alexa Bader): Special Education in a Virtual World
  • Special Education Department (Faculty — Andrea Lynch, Brendan McCarthy, and Jim Henry): Online Virtual Learning Planning Grant For Transition Curriculum Using Signal Success
  • Performing Arts Department/Music (Faculty — Carolyn Castellano): Alumni/Professional Zoom Workshops in the Field of Music
  • Visual Arts Department (Faculty — Elizabeth Brennan, Donna Sartanowicz, and Lisa Francescon): Online Atelier
  • BHS Library (Faculty — Ann Collins, Bridget Knightly, Shelley Mains, and Maura McGill): Cybrary: Building a More Digitally Dynamic Library
  • Special Education Department/School-wide (Faculty — Matthew DeGrace): Remote Learning Example Catalog

New Grant: Coding @ BHS

$150,0000 investment over two years

This new, interdepartmental grant is a collaborative effort from the departments of Math, Science and Career and Technical Education that will offer coding experiences to all BHS students by embedding computer science (coding) curriculum into general math and science courses at the high school so that every student will graduate with a basic understanding of how to code through hands-on coding practice. The Innovation Fund is excited to support this grant because exposing all BHS students to coding will:

  • Begin to prepare all students who wish to pursue career opportunities in the computer science field;
  • Provide all students with coding knowledge and problem solving experiences that are applicable to a wide variety of career paths; and
  • Address systemic inequities that create roadblocks for students of color and young women to enter computer science fields.

The timing of this school-wide initiative is aligned with the current construction of the new STEM wing at BHS. Part of the work that faculty will do, in examining the existing BHS curricula across departments, will also determine how coding fits in with other STEM courses and learning opportunities for all students. Faculty leads will be: Tyler Wooley-Brown (Science/Physics), Adam Fried (Math) and Christine Shen (Math).

An Update from the Chair of our Board of Directors, Ellen Rizika

An Update from the Chair of our Board of Directors, Ellen Rizika

Dear BHS Parents, Caregivers and Community Members,

Ellen Rizika, Chair of the Board of Directors, the BHS Innovation Fund

I hope this message finds you and your loved ones safe and well. I am writing to provide an update on the BHS Innovation Fund and how we as an organization are working to support BHS leadership, faculty and students during this uncertain time. With the coronavirus pandemic, the last month has brought unprecedented change to our world, both globally and locally. All of us have been impacted in some way by this public health crisis, and many are experiencing challenges that we never thought we’d be facing.

As a parent of two high schoolers and a college student, and a daughter of aging parents, I imagine that I’m not alone in my efforts to keep everyone safe, happy and fed. Yet, in my role as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the BHS Innovation Fund, a nonprofit organization within the high school, I am buoyed by the momentum I see in the BHS community as we all navigate towards a “new normal” at the high school.

At the Innovation Fund, our 2019-2020 funded Program Faculty have also been hard at work adapting their curriculum goals and lessons for online learning:

Our Innovation Fellow, Roger Grande, continues to build a culture of climate sustainability at BHS, by promoting many Earth Day activities and lessons for the community via email and on his GraduateGreen webpage. In addition, Roger is offering timely activities focusing on “pathways out of a pandemic” through his Global Leadership class as well as interviews with leading speakers on important topics including:

  • a scientific understanding of the pandemic (Jonathan Lambert, Science News);
  • historical perspective (Dr. Johanna Daily, MD, MS, Infectious Disease Specialist);
  • taking action (Juliette Kayyem, Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs for Homeland Security in the Obama Administration and Belfer Senior Lecturer in International Security at the Harvard Kennedy School); and
  • building empathy for marginalized groups (Brooke Bischoff, JD, Attorney, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and Burt Pusch, Disability Rights Advocate).

In Experiential Physics for Ninth Grade, teachers are introducing new content on sources of energy around the world, combining the specific physics concepts already taught with a broader discussion of the environmental and health implications of different energy sources.

In Brookline Lens, students are researching COVID-19 PSA Campaigns and then they will write a compare and contrast analysis between two PSAs (print or video) they find online. They will also write and create their own COVID-19 campaign, which may be submitted for statewide competition.

In Hub, teachers connected to ninth grade students remotely to share ideas about how they could replicate some elements of their “circle” practices from Hub with their family members up-close or at-a-distance. These focused on mindfulness and breathing exercises and “rounds” of questions, discussions and personal reflections.

In keeping with our mission to foster a culture of academic innovation at BHS, we at the Innovation Fund are discussing how we can support both teachers and students to address the educational impact of COVID-19. We are asking,

  • “What does academic innovation look like in a new educational environment?”
  • “How can we best support BHS teachers with new funding opportunities for out-of-the-box ideas?”
  • “How can our work support BHS students as they adjust to new learning challenges?”
  • “What else might be on the horizon and how can we respond?”

I look forward to providing an update and sharing more information with you as we solidify our program plans.

Wishing you all good health at home,
Ellen Rizika, P ‘22
Chair, BHS Innovation Fund Board of Directors



  • bhsinnovationfund@psbma.org
  • 617-713-5201
  • 115 Greenough St Brookline, MA 02445