Award-winning Alum’s Physics Education Games Played by over 6 Million Globally
Matthew Blackman (Ed.M., 2009) is an innovative physics teacher who was recently recognized as the National PhyTEC Teacher of the Year by the Physics Teacher Education Coalition. This award recognizes the graduates of physics teacher preparation programs across the country who have had an impact in the field.
In 2011, Blackman’s passion for physics led him to create and launch web-based educational physics games “The Super Ultimate Graphing Challenge” as part of his website, www.theuniverseandmore.com. Since then he has launched 4 additional games, which have been played by over 6 million people from all 50 states and over 150 countries. This was a labor of love, as he took classes on programming, art design, and marketing to create these games.
“Each game has a different content area to help students master an intuitive understanding of physics. You have to apply different physics concepts to play the game. By the end of the game the player develops intuitions about physics and how to apply it,” stated Blackman. “The goal of the games is not to replace the teacher—I see it as a technological resource to enhance classroom learning. Teachers don’t have to spend time preparing class materials and can simply access these games to teach physics concepts.”
Although Blackman considered selling these wildly successful physics games for a small price, he decided against that in order to make them accessible to everyone. “Physics is the most effective way to teach students about scientific thinking and I want to ensure that everyone has an avenue to learn how to think critically as that is a skill that they can use in any walk of life,” said Blackman. Through his efforts, a solid grasp of critical physics concepts is within the reach of a very diverse range of students worldwide.
Blackman currently works at Ridge High School (RHS) in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Blackman has distinguished himself as an engaging physics teacher who has overseen a doubling of the enrollment in physics courses in the schools that he has taught. Prior to RHS, Blackman taught physics at Madison High School (MHS) in Madison, New Jersey. Like at RHS, he did an outstanding job in raising AP physics scores at MHS so that 65% of his students scored a 5 and over 95% of his students scored a 3 or higher. He also raised $20,000 through grant funding to start what became a championship winning Robotics Club at MHS. The NJ State Legislature’s Ceremonial Resolution recognized him for his outstanding contributions to MHS.
Blackman attributes his success as a physics educator to the great courses and professors he had at the GSE and especially to Dr. Eugenia Etkina, who set high expectations and provided a high level of support to engage him and his peers in physics education. “Even after we graduated, Dr. Etkina continued to host monthly meetings for us to come to the GSE and support each other. We didn’t feel alone, and our passion for teaching children is what brought us together,” said Blackman.
Blackman is excited about how physics education is changing and now engaging students actively around the learning process. He is looking forward to the new innovative teaching techniques that will result from this approach.