Community High School Teacher Blends Theater and Science in “Flipping Physics”

. July 3, 2020.
Jon Thomas-Palmer works out a physics problem on a whiteboard for students. Can you tell if the answer is correct? Image courtesy of Jonathan Thomas-Palmer.
Jon Thomas-Palmer works out a physics problem on a whiteboard for students. Can you tell if the answer is correct? Image courtesy of Jonathan Thomas-Palmer.

Jonathan Thomas-Palmer is a “Worldwide Physics Educator” through his global online educational platform, “Flipping Physics,” which features physics videos on a YouTube channel.

In addition to being with Flipping Physics for seven and a half years, he is also a part-time science teacher at Community High School, having been there for four and a half years. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and his Master’s Degree in Education. He and his family moved to Ann Arbor in 2007.

“My wife is a clinical social worker with her own psychotherapy practice,” he described. “My two daughters are both students at Community High School. I love that they both attend the school where I teach because it means that, not only do I get to see them more often during the week, I also am intimately familiar with their school. I know and respect all of their teachers. It is a wonderful thing.”

Flipping Physics at its foundation has a clear pedagogical/philosophical underpinning according to Thomas-Palmer.

Jon Thomas-Palmer does a handstand to demonstrate physics principles. Image courtesy of Jonathan Thomas-Palmer.

Jon Thomas-Palmer does a handstand to demonstrate physics principles. Image courtesy of Jonathan Thomas-Palmer.

“First off you need to understand that flipping students’ learning in its most basic definition means to move to direct instruction, or lectures, out of the classroom to allow more time in class for student/teacher interaction and more active learning,” he described. “I started flipping my students’ learning in 2013, and I recognized the need for free, quality, online physics educational videos. That is why I started Flipping Physics, to provide teachers with videos they can use to flip their students’ learning.”

He has seen his channel transform in positive ways over the years.

“Over the years I have learned a lot about how to create better videos and therefore I have been able to add more demonstrations and animations to my videos,” he described. “I’ve been able to use a high frame rate camera to be able to slow down what is happening to be able to better show the physics. The best way to see this is to watch my two minute YouTube Trailer which shows snippets of most of my videos from 2019.” Link to two-minute Trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nk2nYTY0HxI

The channel has also grown over the years.

“My Flipping Physics YouTube channel has slow exponential growth,” he noted. “It has grown to the point where I now have roughly 57 thousand subscribers and 7.8 million views. I have also signed with Boclips and Discovery Education as a content partner. So my videos are also available on those platforms.”

Thomas-Palmer has received great feedback from viewers as well.

According to Tom Norris of “Teaching Physics UK”:

“Just discovered @FlippingPhysics properly. OMG amazing. Physics teachers check out this absolute treasure trove. Amazing videos, super high quality videos and animations, engaging explanations that are amazingly thorough and incorporate questions that students really would ask.”

Also, according to Curt Bixel:

“I’ve been teaching physics for 20 years. I’m good at it. The quality of instruction in this video is stunningly good. There is no point in me even developing a lesson or lecture on this topic, as it simply could not be done better or more clearly than this.” 

Thomas-Palmer said there has been more activity and interest in Flipping Physics since COVID-19.

“Clearly more teachers are seeking online resources to use with their students,” Thomas-Palmer noted. “During the pandemic, I’ve seen roughly double the views compared to last year.”

He said his videos mix some of the best elements of theater and physics, particularly with the prime characters he features in his videos that he himself plays.

Not only does Jon Thomas-Palmer play teacher in his video, he portrays the three student characters of Billy, Bobby, and Bo. Image courtesy of Jonathan Thomas-Palmer.

Not only does Jon Thomas-Palmer play teacher in his video, he portrays the three student characters of Billy, Bobby, and Bo. Image courtesy of Jonathan Thomas-Palmer.

“I often hear that the addition of Billy, Bobby, and Bo helps students feel more like they are a part of a class rather than watching a PowerPoint presentation,” described Thomas-Palmer. 

Two reactions from viewers are:

“When Bobby was correct about the force applied to the book, but changed his answer because of Billy and Bo, I died laughing. You make learning physics fun man!” stated Neil Smith.

“You, sir, have been my teacher. Billy, Bobby and Bo my classmates. Your videos, my classroom. I want to say the biggest and most sincere thank you. Your videos are well produced, informative, and I presume take time to put together. They allow me to see and make sense of what the textbook is trying to say. You are my first port of call when searching on YouTube. Thank you for teaching me. I enjoy learning with you” stated Aaron Marsh. 

Read more from his online students here: https://www.flippingphysics.com/comments.html

The students at Community High not only get to enjoy his videos online, but get to enjoy Thomas-Palmer in person when school is usually in session.

“I have been teaching at Community High School for four and a half years,” he describes. “I teach physics. I am not a full-time teacher. If I were, I would not have time to make Flipping Physics videos. Yes, I certainly use my Flipping Physics videos with my Community students.”

Thomas-Palmer has some concluding remarks about his video making.

“I think people do not normally consider the humans which create the content they consume online,” he stated. “My videos take roughly 2 hours per minute of video to create (see http://flippingphysics.com/making-a-video.html.) I make very little money from advertisements, less now because companies are reducing their advertising budgets due to the pandemic. Anything people can do to support creators like me is appreciated. The best way to support me is through my Patreon.”

Thomas-Palmer does not have any firm predictions regarding starting face-to-face school in the fall, but he does have apprehensions.

“I cannot predict what school will be like in the fall,” stated Thomas-Palmer. “I can tell you I am scared for what school will look like in the fall. I am scared that if we meet face-to-face, it will be dangerous. I am scared that, if we do not meet face-to-face, students, staff, and parents will suffer.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently required Michigan school districts to draw up different COVID-19 plans based on Phase that we are in, which will depend on whether the number of cases drastically increases, is stable, or improves.