The Day Job

I have a full-time job, although ironically I’m not managing to blog nearly as much as when I was a classroom teacher, which was noticeably more than full-time. I’m fielding a lot of queries about physics teaching concerns on Twitter, which is fine, but I thought it might save me a lot of hassle if I put the same links here. Over a third of those teaching physics topics, according to data reported on p2 of this report from Wellcome, are not physics specialists. This matches the data I’ve seen through my day job at the Institute of Physics.

But before I say too much, let’s start with a disclaimer: what’s on my blog and on twitter from me is not official IOP policy or approved content. The IOP doesn’t care about the music I listen to, the political views I share, the arguments I have about gun control, mental health support or how to spell sulphur. (Well, maybe that last bit.) When I blog and tweet, I speak for myself. I’ll do my best to explain the IOP approach, for example with energy stores and pathways or the best way to support gender balance, but my bosses will only care about what I send from my work email account on work time. They’ll defend me on that – or not, as the case may be – but my off-duty self is not their problem.

Teacher support via the IOP

Whether you’re new to teaching Physics or have been heading your department for decades, the IOP has supporting material for you via the For Teachers page. Among other suggestions, this links to the TalkPhysics forum (free to join), which I recommend for queries that include more detail than the average tweet. There are several projects running to support schools, including the Stimulating Physics Network and Future Physics Leaders; these run alongside the locally-based Physics Network Co-ordinators. If you want your department to receive a little more support, you can join the schools and colleges affiliation scheme which gets you the journal Physics Education among other perks.

Detailed and in-depth discussion of pedagogy is broken down into 5-11, 11-14 and 14-16 topics on the Supporting Physics Teaching site. If you’re after something specific you may want to drop me a line on Twitter, but the content is evidence-informed and referenced. Great material for when you have a little time to think and plan.

The Improving Gender Balance project grew out of the Girls in Physics report. Lots of resources are available and my colleagues are always happy to talk to schools interested in applying these ideas. The last set of data showed that in around half of UK state schools not a single girl carries on to A-level physics; the imbalance in some subjects is even worse.

For hands-on advice the IOP supports the Practical Physics site. This grew out of the Getting Practical materials and is well worth exploring, with guides to pass on to technicians. You may also find the Teaching Advanced Physics (TAP) site useful, not least because some of the concepts are now covered in the GCSE curriculum as well as A-level.

If you’re an established physics teacher, the chances are that you do some informal coaching of colleagues even if you don’t have an official role. This is what my day job is all about, so please give me a shout so I can steal your ideas discuss the sharing of good practice. You may also be interested in Membership and applying to be recognised as a Chartered Physicist, and I have supporting materials that could help.

Other sources

I may be biased but I think the IOP materials are a good start. There are, of course, other places to look! I’ve been involved with a couple of these but others I know from using them with students or colleagues.

There are simulations available at PhET and the Physics Classroom. Understandably they take an American approach at times, but they’re well worth checking out. Double check suitability before setting for homework, as some will need Java installing or updating so may not play well on mobile devices. Both include pedagogy discussions for teachers as well as simulations for students.

STEM Learning – what I still think of as the eLibrary, and linked to the physical library at York – has loads of great resources, including versions of some of those linked above. Two collections in particular may be of interest, which organise the resources according to a curriculum: 14-16 science resource packages and A-level science resource packages. Bizarrely, the topics within each subject are alphabetical rather than logical, but that’s pretty much my only criticism. A free sign-in is required.

I do some freelance work with Hodder Education. The textbooks are obviously worth a look, but I’m not here to advertise. One project you can get for free is the Physics Teacher Guide. This is matched to the student textbook and online (subscription) resources, but may be useful even if you don’t have the budget to get for your workplace.

As an ASE member, I get the journal and magazine regularly. You shouldn’t need a login to access the Physics resources, which are an eclectic collection. I highly recommend the free downloads from the Language of Maths in Science project. Heads of Department might find membership worthwhile simply to access the Science Leaders’ Hub.

For Students

You may already pass these on to students – or have opinions about why that is a bad idea – but I think SchoolPhysics (from the author of the Resourceful Physics Teacher), HyperPhysics (concept maps linking physics ideas, probably best for A-level) and Physics and Maths Tutor (for past paper) are worth a look. Several of the above links, of course, may also be useful for them too.

A-level students can get a free e-newsletter, Qubit from the IOP. Hodder also publish Physics Review for A-level students, which is a good way to extend their learning beyond the curriculum.

EDIT: I was prompted about IsaacPhysics, which of course is a great site and one I recommend to colleagues. Questions are organised by linked topics for the spaced retrieval practice we all know is so important. Thanks to @MrCochain for the reminder. They also have funded places for a residential bootcamp this summer for students in England between years 12 and 13 who meet one or more criteria eg in first generation going to uni.

Please share any broadly useful resources via the comments; I’ve deliberately not started listing teacher blogs because I’d be here for ages. Maybe that can be a later post? But I have several others on my list, including materials to support the learning of equations and a review of an old science textbook. There’s never enough time…

 

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Exit Questionnaire: Useful?

Last year, as part of the Action Research in Physics Project run through the Science Learning Centres, I collected data in my school about those who didn’t do Physics at AS. If this seems odd, think for a moment. If we ask those who did choose our subject, we’re only getting the success stories. Surely what we want to know is what put off everyone else. I was particularly interested in the high number who had achieved well at GCSE (getting A* in the separate Physics course) but had not chosen it as part of their AS timetable.

At my workplace, students are selected for triple science GCSE rather than choosing it themselves, which might account for some of them – they were bright students who achieved well in all or many of their subjects. And we have a lot of students doing Physics at AS, it’s not as if we’re in danger of losing classes. However, we do lag behind Biology and Chemistry. Boo. Hiss. I’m obviously not the first person to consider this, and I noticed some of the issues raised in, for example, the IOP Girls in Physics report. Numbers seem to be rising (32860 finished A2 last year, according to this Telegraph story which credits Brian Cox, or see this IOP press release for more detailed numbers.)

Scientists always like more data, and one school is hardly respresentative. So, I thought, why not collect more? If only there was some way to make this kind of quick survey available to colleagues in other schools, so that we could get a bigger sample. If only there was some way to automate and easily share the results, so that we could all learn from it…

At the risk of sounding like a Year 8 stuck on their homework, the answer is Google. A Google form, to be precise.

Obviously the results will be skewed, as I expect only students who have continued to their school 6th form will be pointed towards this, but the more data we can collect the better. Obviously the results will be open to all participants and I will also be blogging about them – it’s also possible that they will inform an article somewhere, perhaps SSR.

What I need to know is whether this is worth taking forward. I’ve put a draft Google form together, based on the paper version I used at my school last year. I have some questions to use, although obviously I’d be interested in any extra suggestions. I want to make this a fast questionnaire, not something students or teachers have to spend a lot of time on. My plan is to finalize the form in a week’s time, so the more feedback and suggestions I get in that time the better. I plan to post and tweet the link to the improved version on September 1st, and hope that as many colleagues as possible will get kids to fill it in. I’d also appreciate suggestions about how to get the word out to as many teachers as practical in a short space of time.

Anyone interested?

Places To Look

There’s some great resources out there for teaching. Lots of them are free, even.  The problem, usually, is finding them. I’m in the process, as many colleagues will be, of writing/rewriting schemes of work. (Partly this is because the government pushes for a curriculum review every few years, just to keep us teachers out of trouble.) But it’s far too easy to cut and paste sections of the old scheme, just to save time. I’m trying to be a little more systematic and decided to post about my checklist for things to include, with a particular focus on  where to find good resources online. The list will in no way be exhaustive and I’d love to get suggestions via the comments. Obviously most of this post is irrelevant for non-science teachers, although there’s probably an overlap with the rest of the STEM family.

General Stuff to Include

In a dream world your department will have spent an INSET day thrashing out what should be in a dream curriculum, put it in a logical sequence and the exam is an afterthought. Realistically, you’ll have started with the exam specification.And then:

  • content to include, possibly split into foundation and higher tier material
  • reminders of main ideas (especially those that get forgotten) and specify what isn’t needed
  • links to local electronic versions of worksheets and powerpoints – organising these is always fun
  • summaries of useful videos – these days probably files taken from videos or DVDs, or acquired from iPlayer or YouTube
  • more links or references to local resources (we use Birchfield and MyWorks) TK and the school VLE
  • details of practical work, clearly labelled as demonstration/class work/investigative
  • cross curricular links, including anything citizenship-related and especially careers
  • particularly good opportunities for ICT work, or L2L (metacognition) aspects

So that’s an awful lot of stuff, isn’t it? Trawling through what you have stored in your setting – if you’re anything like ours – means fighting your way through a dozen disorganized folders, a third of which are labelled ‘misc’ or ‘to sort out’. Half of the resources don’t match the new specification, so you need to link or reference odd pages, here and there. The person who knows all the admin passwords is off sick. And every time you find something you’re sure you can clear out, someone who’s been teaching forever proclaims they use it all the time and it can’t possibly be deleted.

This is before you start looking for new ideas, resources or suggestions anywhere else online, or just give up and ask on Twitter. (You could always tag your question with #asechat or #pimpmydemo, linking you in to existing communities.)

So let’s make it easy. Where could you look? You normally have a choice between sites with a small amount of selected, reviewed material, or huge collections with little in the way of detail or quality control. This presentation (not one of mine) describes the distinction.

The TES resources site has tonnes of material. It’s organised, and some of it will be rated by popularity. Like the more recent Guardian equivalent, the biggest problem is about curation. There’s little or no editorial oversight of the majority of submissions. This means that once you’ve had a look at the “editor’s picks” there’s no easy way to find what will work best for your needs. Signing in makes it a bit more difficult, and there’s no guarantee that what you get will be more than another teacher’s hurried worksheet.

I presume that there are equivalents to the science-specific sites I use, as the Association for Science Education is unlikely to offer much to a history specialist. The ASE site doesn’t have much itself as there’s a specific resources site, SchoolScience, a lot of which is ‘sponsored’ material e.g. Steelmaking by Corus. Searching for ideas though past journals (SSR and Eis) doesn’t appeal, although they’re an interesting read. The three secondary sites of the Getting Practical initiative, Practical Biology, Chemistry and Physics, are fantastic for all kinds of detailed instructions. (I’m sure the rest is good too but I’ve not used them as much.) The Institute of Physics has a specific page of teacher resources. The site SchoolPhysics, based on the great book The Resourceful Physics Teacher, has some very useful worksheets and animations. Instructables has some interesting ideas for science clubs.

For videos there are several more options. You can still access those from TeachersTV, although many of these are intended for teachers to use as CPD rather than specific classroom resources. Searching through them on this site isn’t great as you can’t filter easily. There are many great videos on YouTube, from Sagan’s “pale blue dot” as a film or an animation, to Mr Chadwick’s Mechanics revision song. There are loads of specific channels you may find useful, but as usual searching is your best bet. More clips are available at the BBC Learning Zone which offers a searchable collection, mostly short sections from documentaries.

There are many other odd pages here and there – this one focuses on post-16 resources, for example – but most don’t have enough to be worth checking every time. And this is the problem – every page you check, every different search bar, takes time. My blog, and many others (Snapshot Science and Fiendishly Clever jump to mind, listed on the right) will have some useful resources. But how many are you going to check before you run out of time?

Let me give one you one site as an example which simultaneously demonstrates the strength and weakness of the web. The National STEM Centre runs what they call an eLibrary and it has great potential. It’s a step in the right direction as it hosts resources produced by other groups (such as the ASE and IoP) and you can search using filters; it also groups resources into collections. There’s loads here, but material is only listed if it is stored locally. For example, searching for ‘waves’ brings up some fantastic material including videos from @alomshaha, clips from Brian Cox’s lectures and simulations from the IoP. It would be even better if a separate tab listed reviewed videos elsewhere, for example YouTube, or specific external websites. Those wider links could potentially make this the site to check, instead of one among others. Too many websites makes life harder rather than easier, if they don’t link to each other. What we need is a gateway to resources everywhere – the whole point of the web is that it’s connected.

If I’ve missed your favourite place to find resources, please add it in the comments. (EDIT: added SchoolScience which I’d missed from the ASE section.)

Spot the Physics

As part of a project I’m involved with at the moment (more accurately have been involved with, but haven’t been blogging about) I’ve been looking at ways to get students thinking more about how physics as a subject can affect their future lives. I know we all do loads about context, and how relevant it is, and how our lives would be different etc etc, but this was something different. After talking to some of our sixth formers I realised how few careers they could suggest that had something to do with physics.

Seriously, two; ‘doctor’ and ‘nuclear physicist’.

My first idea was, rather indirectly, inspired by the ‘What Have The Romans Done For Us’ sketch from Monty Python, via the excellent parody at The Lay Scientist. I gave a group the image of a classroom and asked them to suggest all the ways in which people had used physics to make it work. With a few hints – okay, a lot of hints – they came up with loads of good ideas.

As you can see above (click the picture for the pdf) I ‘translated’ this into a poster, which is the stimulus for the next lesson, not necessarily with the same group).

The class get an example, and links to sites like the careers page at the Institute of Physics. They also get, in groups of four or five, a different situation – teenager’s bedroom, football match, doctors’ surgery and so on. They then have to produce an equivalent poster which shows the variety of jobs/careers/roles that involve physics to a greater or lesser extent.

I can’t easily upload the original Publisher versions (without messing with things like Dropbox and similar, anyway) so instead you’ll have to make do with the  printable: spot the physics, saved as a pdf. So you now have a choice:

  1. spend time copying and pasting, or convert them with something like pdftoword if you don’t have pdf editing software
  2. start from scratch, so they end up just the way you want them
  3. email me and I’ll send you the files, free of charge, because I get a warm glow at any hint anyone reads this blog

This wasn’t the only approach I took. I’m working on a big list of science related careers (not working very hard because there must be something out there, right?) for the school VLE. I’m doing some work on combating ‘medicine is the only clinical career’ tunnel vision. And I’ve annotated a ‘highest paid professions’ list with a highlighter to show just how useful interesting profitable physics can be.

But more about those in my next post.

PS These files are the first I’m tagging with the Creative Commons logo. This is just a way of formalising what I’ve posted about several times, that I’m perfectly happy for people to use and edit my content, but I’d rather they (a) didn’t make a profit and (b) credited me or the blog. More information on the specific licence I’ve chosen at Creative Commons: by-nc-sa.