A welcome power boost for physics teachers

There is a fantastic amount of support out there for new or non-specialist teachers of physics. This is just as well since specialist physics teachers are a rare breed and cannot mentor all the non-specialists teaching in their schools.  It seems that despite the multitude of resources available from such august organisations as the Institute of Physics, STEM Learning, and Physics Partners, the need for ‘live’ training seems to be greater than ever.  I have seen groups of nearly 100 attending online workshops I’ve delivered on topics such as forces, energy, circuits and radioactivity.  And it’s why we’re launching our “Physics Fuel” series of short films so teachers can access on-demand expert help whenever they need it.

Why is this help so important right now? I have a few theories.

Firstly, when the school curriculum was beefed up under Gove the physics element became more demanding, including topics brought in from A-level, such as latent heat and magnetic force.  A new approach to teaching Energy has unsettled even seasoned teachers. Newton’s Third Law has appeared explicitly in exam questions, requiring a full appreciation despite being often misconceived.

Secondly, in the great cycle of educational trends we have seen a return to Direct instruction as opposed to more student-centred teaching style. This puts the focus much more on the teacher and the importance of explanation, which is challenging for those teaching outside their specialism. One example is how we explain the particles that make up an atom, just from looking at Periodic Table data.

Thirdly of course we have the Coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown of schools. Anyone who has taught lessons online will know how much more closely one needs to prepare and have almost scripted explanations ready – either to record to video or to deliver live via an online platform. Without the normal distractions and banter of the classroom, the webcam is a much more critical eye; ums and ahs, pauses to check in the textbook and so on do not really cut it. And now that schools are back in session the pressure is on to close the gap from lockdown and to delve deeply yet quickly into concepts which might not have been fully understood by students learning independently. Concise, high quality explanations of concepts are vital.

And if you have ever had to teach beyond your degree-level (or even A level) specialism, you’ll know that you need that wealth of back-stories, contexts, models and analogies that good teachers use to enhance understanding and aid retention. We’ve put lots of these into our Physics Fuel films.

Whilst we have some students learning from home, and even possible further school closures, finding good-quality online resources will be crucial, especially those which show – or simulate – experiments that the students will miss out on. Physics Fuel contains all the best examples of these, saving teachers time wading through the vastness of the internet.

Teachers are understandably reaching for workshops, webinars, videos and anything else which will help deepen their own understanding as well as tips for how to support their students. With a busy timetable, these 10 minute boosts will really help to power your physics teaching!

Christina Astin
November 2020