Early History of the OAPT

A Chance Encounter


The creation of the OAPT arose from a chance encounter between two Ontario physics educators. In the winter of 1977 George Kelly (a secondary-school physics teacher from Scarborough) and Ernie McFarland (a faculty member from the University of Guelph) attended the Winter Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) in Chicago. They happened to sit beside each other at a workshop about Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, and over the next few days they had several discussions about physics teaching. By the end of the Meeting, they were asking themselves “Why did we have to travel to Chicago to have these discussions? Why not a have forum in Ontario for physics educators?”

Birth of the OAPT

The next step was to explore how best to create such a forum. Discussions were held with the Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario (STAO), the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP), and the AAPT. In the summer of 1978 there was a joint conference of the CAP and the AAPT at the University of Western Ontario (U.W.O.), and many conversations were held there about possible ways to proceed. It was decided to create an Ontario Section of the AAPT; this would be the first Section outside the U.S.A. The AAPT was chosen because of its long history of encouraging interactions among physics educators in high schools, colleges, and universities, as well as its outstanding educational resources, including the publications “The Physics Teacher” and “American Journal of Physics.” A formal proposal to create the Ontario Section was submitted to the AAPT Executive at the AAPT Winter Meeting in 1979 (in Chicago once again), and accepted by that body. The formal objectives of the Ontario Section were (and still are) “the advancement of the teaching of physics in the secondary schools, colleges and universities of Ontario, and the promotion of a professional spirit and acquaintanceship among the members of the Section.” 

1979: The First OAPT Conference

The first conference of the Ontario Section (known as AAPT-Ontario) was held in June 1979 at the University of Guelph. As of October 1979 there were approximately 200 members of AAPT-Ontario; annual membership dues were $1.00. The first AAPT-Ontario Executive consisted of:

• T. Dean Gaily from U.W.O. as the Ontario Section Representative to the AAPT
• Doug Cunningham from Bruce Peninsula D.S. as the Secretary-Treasurer
• Doug Fox from Belle River D.H.S. as Vice-President
• Jim Stevens from the U. of Guelph as Member-at-Large
• Ernie McFarland as President (George Kelly served as President from 1982 to 1983.) 

The Grade 11 Physics Contest and Early Executive

One of the earliest major initiatives of AAPT-Ontario was the creation of the province-wide Grade 11 Physics Contest by Doug Fox in 1980.

Other people who played major roles on the Executive in the early years were:

• Gord McKye, Etobicoke Board of Education
• John Earnshaw, Trent University
• Alan Hirsch, Peel Board of Education
• John Hlynialuk, Wiarton D.H.S.
• Brenda Molloy, Bayridge S.S., Kingston
• Neves Periera, Agincourt C.I.

Early Conferences Format and Life Memberships

OAPT members have always found the annual conferences to be important and rewarding. From the beginning, the conference locations have been as varied and inclusive as possible. Click to see a list of conference sites

Some of the features of the early conferences were:

• plenary sessions involving invited papers (each 30 minutes to 1 hour)
• contributed papers (each 10 to 15 minutes)
• “My Favourite Demonstration” session
• Friday night banquet
• visits to local research and innovation sites

Life Memberships

Beginning in 1982, Honorary Life Memberships were awarded to OAPT members who had made extraordinary contributions to the OAPT. Click to visit the Honorary Life Members page.

A Change of Name

In 1987 it was proposed that the formal name of the organization be changed from the Ontario Section of the AAPT to the Ontario Association of Physics Teachers (OAPT). This proposal was voted on by the entire membership and approved. 

Other Canadian Sections

The OAPT still is affiliated with the AAPT as its Ontario Section. As of 2015, other Canadian Sections exist in AlbertaBritish Columbia, and Quebec.

Researched by Ernie McFarland,

with helpful reviews from Al Hirsch, Doug Cunningham, and Dean Gaily



Original page was programmed by Rolly Meisel. Please send additions, corrections or comments to: rollym49@gmail.com.


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