Institute of Physics
Claire Thomson - Curriculum Support Manager

Report by Sarah Codrington

Clare Thomson stated that the Institute of Physics (IOP) is working to arrest the decline in students choosing physics post-16. Physics in the early years of secondary school tends to be taught as part of science by science teachers who are not physics specialists, an issue for post-16 physics.

The post-16 Advancing Physics course has been revised for the new 2008 specification. It built on Nuffield Advanced Physics, but went back to first principles. It encourages teaching for understanding and engagement, and there are active email groups forming a community of teachers and learners, as well as resources. However the course is tied to an awarding body specification so it has to change when the specification criteria change. The ‘Teaching Advancing Physics’ website, developed with support from the Gatsby Foundation, is also popular. These resources are not tied to any particular specification, but are there to support teachers who may be struggling with teaching A-level.

The Institute of Physics is also providing support for non-specialist teachers and beginning teachers of pupils aged 11-14, and extending this to 14-16. The aim is to help teachers develop their understanding and so feel more secure in their teaching, by using appropriate analogies and addressing common misconceptions. This is being done via training and resources on CD-ROM and now as downloadable PDFs.

The Practical Physics website for non-specialist teachers and technicians, run with the Nuffield Foundation Curriculum Programme and based originally on Nuffield O-level Physics, is very popular.

The interactive Physics and Ethics Education (PEEP) website is a virtual learning environment (VLE) developed to highlight the moral, ethical, social, economic, environmental and technological implications and applications of physics. The aim is to raise science teachers’ confidence in dealing with ‘difficult’ topics, uncertainty and debate, to facilitate discussion, and to enable students to evaluate many-sided arguments and come to their own conclusions ideas for activities and practical work for 14-16-year-olds, with student instructions and worksheets and videos of people using physics in their jobs.

The number of girls who continue with physics after the age of 16 is a major concern. The Institute has been working in this area since 2004. A review was commissioned to try and understand the causes of this problem. Drawing on this review, a teachers’ guide and two videos were produced to help teachers to find ways of encouraging more girls to study Physics.

Since then the Institute has been working with the National Network of Science Learning Centres, funded by the DCSF, on an action research programme to share information on successful teaching and learning strategies to engage girls with physics. The second phase, in 2008, enabled teachers from 100 schools to participate. The evaluation aimed to gauge the success of the interventions that schools undertook as part of the project. The evaluation of the Girls into Physics - Action Research project has recently been published.

Other IOP education resources include medical physics, radioactivity, and careers materials. The aim here is to help students’ understanding of what physics is and how it is used in people’s work. Discussions are taking place with the Mathematics community to explore the place of mathematics in physics.