Perspectives for 14-16 TEACHER COMMUNITY

At the start of the school year when I first meet my GCSE students, I ask them to write a letter introducing themselves. I provide some prompt questions, and show how I would answer them about myself to give them an idea of what I’m after. This year I shared that I am Belgian and that I speak French, I have a fluffy ginger cat called Benjie, I play quite a few musical instruments (and will be writing physics revision songs), I love roller skating (and that roller skating is full of physics) and I care a great deal about nature and sustainability. I explain the purpose of this exercise: for me to understand their goals, motivations, challenges and interests so that I can teach them as effectively as I can.

Some students write a couple of sentences that give me little to go on. I now know that they have a pet dog and they like football. Others will offer me pages of passionate prose, full of perceptive insights and radical honesty. I’ve had a number of students come out to me on the page.

There’s one question I always ask. Do you have any questions about physics? The answers I get here are some of the most revealing.

Among my Y11 students this year the most common questions were: what is physics, why do we have to study physics in school (the ‘have to’ makes my heart sink), what jobs can studying physics help with, who invented physics and who was the first physicist?

My students have spent eleven years of their life in school, and the last two studying physics as a separate subject. And yet at no point have they explicitly been taught what physics is, why they should study it and how it might help them in the future.

This is not unusual.

With a packed curriculum, many schools don’t actively make space for this kind of big picture thinking. And yet, it is essential. In order to be motivated to study — or indeed to do anything in life — students would benefit immensely from understanding what it actually is they are studying, not to mention why it’s worthwhile.

And so I spend a lesson answering their questions.

Submitted by Carole Kenrick

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