HBSc 2002 – Astronomy and Physics Specialist
Sarah Torrie is a high school physics teacher at Victoria Park Collegiate Institute in Toronto. She is a graduate of the Astronomy and Physics Specialist program as well as the Education Program at the University of Toronto. Sarah is the winner of the 2022 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM and the 2019 Canadian Association of Physicists Award for Excellence in Teaching High School Physics (Ontario).
Why did you choose Physics?
Admittedly I didn’t start my university degree with a physics-centred plan. In high school, I took and enjoyed a variety of courses, and I continued to take both arts and science courses once I started university. However, by my second year I had narrowed in on the Astronomy and Physics Program. I think I chose physics because I liked the challenge it presented. I liked tackling difficult problems and I enjoyed the comradery of working with classmates on those problem sets. I have fond memories of making observations using the telescope in the McLennan building and driving the departmental Astro van up to the David Dunlop Observatory for an evening of data collection. It was here that I discovered the frustration and thrill of doing science.
It is difficult for me to separate my decision to major in physics and my choice to explore a career in education. In my second year I saw a flyer advertising the Early Teacher Program (ETP). This program, spearheaded by Professor Charles Dyer, allowed physics students to gain experience in Ontario science classrooms before entering the education program at OISE. One year into this program I knew that teaching physics was for me. Thanks to the support of the Department of Physics and the mentorship of Professor John Percy I was able to write an astronomy outreach manual as part of my final research project.
How did physics help you in your teaching career?
Physics was not easy, but I value the experience of the challenge it presented – and appreciate how it informed my perspective on learning. It made me a more confident, resilient, and empathetic teacher. Physics helped me recognize how much discussing ideas with others makes us better learners and teachers. Being a physics educator is one of the best jobs in the world. Making physics accessible, inclusive and fun is very rewarding. The physics teaching community is a supportive, creative, and dedicated group of people. Collaborating with other physics educators has taken me to the Canadian Light Source, Perimeter Institute, Institute of Quantum Computing and CERN. These experiences have expanded my knowledge base, connected me to the greater physics community and have ensured my teaching remains relevant for students.
I have also enjoyed staying connected to the U of T Department of Physics through their outreach program. Over the years my students have benefited from department members volunteering their time to run workshops, give tours, run contest preparation, and deliver lectures. Thank you for your continuous support of our young scientists.