John Percy

PTA Winner John Percy

John Percy has been deeply engaged in the teaching, research and communication of science and, more particularly, astronomy for his entire working life.

He received his bachelor of science (math and physics), masters and PhD (astronomy), all from the University of Toronto, before accepting an appointment as a founding faculty member in astronomy and astrophysics at UTM (then Erindale College).

His university teaching extends well beyond instructing students to be scientists. In the 1990’s, he designed undergraduate courses in science education to introduce young people to education as a creative discipline. Many of these students have developed outreach programs, resources and curriculum which are used by community groups.

He is renowned for encouraging students to learn by doing, an effort recognized by U of T with a Northrop Frye Award in 2003. He has supervised almost 100 undergraduates conducting research projects, and dozens of high school students through the Faculty of Arts and Science’s Mentorship Program. He co-developed learning materials, such as Hands-On Astrophysics, which provides real data to high school students, helping them integrate science and math skills.

A strong advocate of teaching development, Percy has organized workshops for new instructors and TAs, established a cross-disciplinary Teaching-Learning-Communication group (a forum for faculty and staff to share ideas at UTM) and built up a library collection on astronomy education and outreach in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Working in collaboration with OISE/UT, he has carried out and published several education research projects, some of which have focused on teaching introductory astronomy to non-science students at the university level.

Percy has been extremely active in public outreach at the local, provincial, national and international levels. He has delivered over 350 non-technical lectures in 19 countries. He is working to extend science outreach at U of T, including to under-served groups such as inner-city black youth in Toronto.

As a member of professional organizations, Percy has served as president of a number of organizations including the Commission on Education and Development of the International Astronomical Union and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He was vice-chair of the board of trustees of the Ontario Science Centre, honorary president of the Science Teachers Association of Ontario (STAO) and chair of the Education and Outreach Committee of the Canadian Astronomical Society.

He has edited or co-edited five major conference proceedings on international astronomy education and public outreach, and serves on the board of Astronomy Education Review.

He has written over 100 articles for non-technical readers as well as book reviews and a column for educators in Crucible, STAO’s publication. 

Through funding support from NSERC and the Ontario Government, Percy developed a website for university, instructors, educators, youth and the general public that focuses on education and public outreach material. He is also collaborating in plans for Virtual Outreach for Canadian Astronomy which will provide images, graphics and information to the general public through the media, sciences centres and planetariums.

Percy has been a leader in making astronomy part of the curriculum in elementary and secondary schools. He has also co-authored a high school text book and given dozens of workshops to pre-service and in-service teachers. In 1999, he received the Jack Bell Award from STAO for outstanding contributions to science teaching in Ontario.

He has encouraged the work of citizen scientists - non-professional volunteers who contribute to astronomical research - through his association with American Association of Variable Star Observers and through numerous books, articles and presentations. He co-edited the book Amateur-Professional Partnerships in Astronomy which is considered to be the definitive work on the subject. He has developed and given numerous continuing studies courses over more than 40 years and has a special interest in courses for later-life learners. In 1997, he received the Award for Exceptional Commitment and Achievement in Adult Learning from U of T’s School of Continuing Studies.

Among his many honours, he received the Royal Canadian Institute’s 1997 Sanford Fleming Medal for outstanding achievements in promoting knowledge and understanding in science among Canadians, OISE’s 1998 Distinguished Educator Award and he was inducted in 1999 as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his leadership in science education and professional organizations.