‘New’ Physics

I’m sure many other bloggers have posted about this already, but in case it’s passed you by; the new GCSE specification is officially starting from September. Many schools, of course, started teaching from the draft simple because, if you’re delivering GCSE Science over three years, there was no choice. For various reasons I’ve been looking at the AQA version in quite a lot of detail (as my previous post explained) and I wanted to share a summary I put together for the new content. The new material come from both directions, KS3 and A-level. It’s probably worth me explaining this.

Until now, some material was taught at KS3 (assuming you followed the national curriculum matched to the much-lamented SATs) and then assumed for GCSE. Some of this is now explicitly examined as part of the exam at 16. You could, of course, claim that once it’s been taught at age 13 it wouldn’t need to be revisited. Which, in my opinion, is daft. Other material has been taught as part of A-level for years, but hasn’t been part of the KS4 specification for years – certainly in my teaching memory of a decade or so. This will be a particular issue for schools which don’t deliver A-level, because they won’t have equipment or experience.

Energy: less emphasis on heat transfer and no mention of U-values. Note the use of the ‘new’ energy language (stores and pathways/processes) plus extra equations.

Electricity: a few bits of new vocabulary and slightly developed maths eg now explicitly includes P=I2R. Static electricity now includes electric fields, so you might want to try out the oil and semolina demonstration which is a nice parallel to iron filings around a magnet.
Particles: quite a lot of added material. This includes the idea of latent heat and the associated equation, which I don’t think has been taught to this age group since the days of O-level. There’s also lots on pressure in fluids (including gases) and the relationship between P and V aka Boyle’s Law.
Radioactivity: now includes neutrons as nuclear radiation, which personally I think is quite helpful. The vocabulary used distinguishes between irradiation and contamination (You may find this explanation helpful), but there’s less detail on industrial uses.
Forces: Lots added to this topic. Scalars and vectors are now explicit and students must be able to resolve forces at right angle using scale drawings. Levers has been extended to gears. Pressure includes both the equation for a column of liquid (this PhET simulation might help) and atmospheric pressure. The suvat equations are introduced with v2=u2+2as. Students need to be able to find tangents on d/t graphs. There’s new vocabulary to do with inertial mass. Not just the relationships but the identities of Newton’s Laws are needed, as well as a surprising amount of recall of ‘typical values’ such as reaction times, walking and running speeds and so on.
Waves: the sound and light content, previously at KS3, is now examined including mixing of colours and transmission or absorption by filters. Sound includes ultrasound uses. ‘Perfect’ black body definitions and uses are expected. This cheap wave driver might be useful for the required practical.
Magnetism: this includes all KS3 content but extends electromagnetism to an equation previously saved for A-level, F=BIl. The ideas of induced potential and the generator effect are also covered. On a personal note, I’d consider teaching the transformers material twice, once as part of electricity and once here.
Space: many teachers are disappointed that this topic is reduced – and completely missing if students do ‘double’ aka Trinity rather than separate sciences. I’ve always found it a topic which engaged weaker learners due to the big ideas and lack of scary maths, and now they won’t get to see it.
Hope these links are helpful – please comment or email if you have better suggestions or any other thoughts.


10 thoughts on “‘New’ Physics”

  1. Really helpful thank you will be sharing with our current PGCE’s soon to be NQT’s. it is very timely for them. I would be curious to see if/how the re-introduction of the idea of latent heat leads to a deeper understanding of the kinetic theory of particles

    1. One may hope! You’re probably already aware but please flag up support offered through IOP (my day job) for student teachers, no matter what their specialism, and online resources such as TalkPhysics and SPT. Drop me an email if you’d like more detail and proper links (or perhaps I’ll blog it).

  2. Good overview of the changes- definitely some aspects that will take careful consideration in delivery.

    1. Definitely – not least because of time considerations! The good news is that because it’s all examined at the end, we can rearrange the order to suit ourselves, more or less. I always found it frustrating to try to teach transformers in the old spec; introduced in P1 National Grid, developed in P2 Electricity then finished in P3 with the equations.

    1. Definitely only by scale drawing. However, there is one thing to be cautious about. (This is from Resultant Forces, p44)

      Students should be able to both resolve a force into two components and find the resultant – so they need to be able to work, if you’ll excuse the vector-related pun, in both directions. I think it would be easy for nonspecialists to interpret this point and only teach kids to do part of what’s needed. For example questions you’ll have to look at A-level problems – I’ve always liked Practice in Physics (PiP) myself.

      1. Very helpful, thanks. You’ve saved me from diving down the wrong rabbit hole, for sure. I’ve found some good vector questions on CIE IGCSE Physics, including one that I think is perfect for resolving components.

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