Physics Teaching

December 1, 2009

High Impact Physics Teaching at A-level

Filed under: Uncategorized — ianhardiman @ 2:58 pm

According to OFSTED – 7% of A-level Physics lessons have serious weaknesses. Only 4% of lessons are “outstanding”. How can more lessons be made outstanding?

Lessons broken up into 5 elements:
(teacher advice)
(games and challenges)
Pouring In
(chalk and talk)
(Wow effect, videos)
Pouring out
(Teacher q’s,big q’s)

1. Use of Games to enliven and engage

The idea here is to use these as starters or plenaries or even at suitable points to break up lessons. They can both get students switched on and ready to begin a lesson or consolidate a topic. I have found “Big Questions” to be especially good when used on the VLE as a wiki. If you’re not sure how to set this up, let me know and I can show you – it doesn’t take long.

Stand up, sit down – get students stood up and ask them to think of a property of waves for example. Then work around the room getting in each student in turn to announce their property. Anyone who has the same property sits down, last student standing is the winner.

Graph Splat – In teams. Have 6 (or more) graphs on paper. Each team is stood around a graph sheet (pinned to wall). Read out the title of one of the graphs (e.g. Charge against time for a discharging capacitor). First team to touch (splat!) the correct graph wins a point.

Numbers – take a series of quantities such as diameter of atom, diameter of nucleus etc and teams/pairs race to rank them in size order.

Fantastic 9 – A 3×3 grid with words related to a particular topic. Grids created in groups then used in front of class. Rest of class has to guess the words chosen by group. Eventually group gives clues for the missing words.

Big Questions – Eg “Write down one factor that affects the size of the gravitational force between two masses. Describe how increasing this factor would affect the size of the force” could printed on a piece of paper. Sheet is then passed around with each pair adding their idea to it and taking the answer further. This works really well on the VLE using a wiki.

Home and Away Reading – an excellent way to practise the passage analysis questions in the synoptic paper. The method:

1. Read it
2. Choose one keyword per paragraph
3. Visualise it – turn into pictures
4. Visit and interrogate. One person in pair swaps with next pair and explains pictures to new partner
5. Return home. Visitor tells home person. Home person writes down
6. Home person reads out. Other pair correct and add anything missing.

2. Challenges
The idea of these challenges is to get students active and can really motivate. I have used these to break up topics that otherwise might become a bit dense (e.g making loudspeakers when working through EM Induction and Faraday’s Law).

£5 pick up – Really a party game but is a fun way of introducing moments, centre of gravity and stability. Stand a volunteer with their back against the wall. Place a £5 note about 30cm in front of them and tell them that if they can bend down and pick it up without bending knees then they can keep it.

Making motors – First students to make a motor that works on 1.5V gets a prize.

Making loudspeakers – This is a really fun experiment – students can build their own speakers and play their iPods through them.

Experiments with the wow factor!

Experiments designed to be memorable and enthuse students. For example:

Bipolar spinning grapes
Faraday’s Floating Rings
Melting Nail Transformer
Water Rocket
Exploding capacitors
Mechanics with radio controlled cars

Use of Video in A-level Physics

One of the most exciting parts of this course was the numerous ideas of ways to use video clips to illustrate concepts.

The Italian Job to teach moments – (the part at the end when the bus teeters on the clifftop)
Harry Potter – I have used a clip from the Goblet of Fire where he freefalls. I have also made some worksheets that use extracts from the books to illustrate Physics teaching points. (
Terminator 2 – changes of state.
Speed 2 – velocity time graphs. There are countless films that can be used for this. I also have a Top Gear clip with a race between a fighter jet and a car to use.

Other bits

Limit notetaking. Only one A3 “wheel” per topic area.


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