Good enough is good enough.

A physicist would tell you that it would be illogical to expect a non-sentient life form to change its behaviour based simply on passing a particular point on an arbitrary time scale… which is why they’re not often invited to parties. And so it is that 2021 carries on in much the way that 2020 ended, but that is no reason for the podcast not to celebrate all that’s good about the physics teaching community.

Thomas and Robin return to talk survival as we lock down again. With many teachers now doing hybrid teaching, we discuss strategies for keeping sane.

First up, if you are preparing lessons that colleagues will use, a few minutes invested in a ‘ReadMe’ to help colleagues understand what you were thinking when you planned it.

Oak National Academy is a resource that was put together by teachers to help you, so do use it – it probably won’t be what you would choose to do, but it’s good enough if it saves your sanity.

Thomas makes the point that students respond better to seeing their teacher online, and recommends OBS to those of you with a techie leaning (I’ve heard there may be some of you). This allows you to do lots of clever stuff with video and audio feeds from their PC.

Quizlet, Kahoot and Plickers are all great online tools for assessment and students like them. If you are using Teams you probably have access to MS Forms which are a really effective way of setting work and giving instant assessment and feedback.

Lean on textbooks and online resources – in normal times you may create a lot of resources from scratch because you don’t feel the textbook hits quite the right tome, but for now it’s probably good enough. Thomas mentions potential copyright problems so do check with your school’s policies and whether you are licenced to reproduce limited pages of a textbook.

Check out the resources section of your favourite podcast (see above) for lots of helpful stuff, including Thomas’s latest SIM of the experiment to find Planck’s constant.

Finally, a huge THANK YOU for all you are doing to keep physics alive during these times. One thing we can all agree on is that it’s not ideal, so please just make sure you are keeping safe, healthy and well and that you allow yourself a few quick wins to keep yourself together during this.

Happy New Year to you all

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Festive Demos and Practicals

Ah, the end of term beckons! Mince pies, tubs of choccy selection and of course “Sir/Miss, can’t we watch a video?”. Thomas and Robin are both wary of 45 minutes of Shrek as a Christmas treat – Thomas tells the story of his daughter coming home and asking to see “the rest of Ratatouille” having seen the first 50 minutes 8 times!

And so we present a series of fun physics experiments that will give your students a taste of physics fun at Christmas.

Given that it’s been a tough old term and we are close to the end, we have also decided that this will be the last episode of 2020. Holiday fun is a good point to call it a day for what’s been a punishing year.

So it only remains to say an enormous thank you to you for listening, contributing, but most of all for teaching physics. Enjoy your break and here’s to a more… normal 2021.

Links

Thomas has a go

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Ways to Teach… Magnetism and Magnetic Fields

Excitement and a jam-packed episode this week as we tackle Ways to Teach… magnetism! We start with some feedback from last episode about extended writing in physics. Thanks to William Pope for getting in touch. See the links section below for couple of free lesson resources to help your students become better written communicators in physics… I could do with some myself.

Years of hacking away at computers trying to get ms-2 or 1.6 x 10-19 have taken their toll on Thomas(to type these, I had to open Word, type them, undo the automatic capitalisation of he ‘m’ and then copy-paste into Chrome – sigh). He is therefore happy to have had an early Christmas present of AutoHotkey, a scripting tool for Windows that allows you to map these units and constants to a hotkey, no matter which programme you are typing in. The link is in your fridge… nah, it’s in the Links section below.

Thomas and Robin have a couple of goes at sharing the ideas our dear listener has given us about teaching about magnetic fields and magnetism. We were particularly focused on Key Stage 3 – and magnetism rather than electromagnetism which we will cover later. So if you are one of our heroes – the teachers who wouldn’t naturally identify as a physics teacher – then we hope this episode gives you a few ideas.

Area or region? It’s a minor quibble, but we talk about the relative merits of both descriptions. The classic way of showing magnetic fields – iron filings scattered on a piece of paper held over a magnet – is fine but can lead to an idea that the field is somehow limited to 2 dimensions (hence Robin’s issues with the word ‘area’). We were delighted therefore to hear about the use of acetate or Perspex sheets to show the field. In theory at least you could stack one over another and show the field is in the vertical direction as well as the horizontal. Thomas makes the good point that stacking up the iron filings over the poles of the magnet can show the iron filings building in the vertical dimension.

Mark Whalley joins us to point out that you might have a magnetometer on your phone. Installing PhyPhox opens up the various sensors on your phone which may, depending on your model, include a magnetometer. Mark points out that sitting on a swing with your phone safely in your pocket can pick up the variation in the Earth’s magnetic field strength as the phone’s orientation changes.

And finally… with Christmas just round the corner, what do you get for that special someone in your life. Perfume and socks are so cliché, so scroll up and click on the ‘Shop’ link. Soon Granny will be the envy of the social club in her (TP)2 T-shirt. Why not really make her day and get her a vacuum cannon?

Links

David Cotton’s O-Level experiment for visualising field lines.

The background of the episode image thanks to Geek3, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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Please share ideas or successes – or indeed questions – on our Facebook Page: https://fb.me/physicstp .  You can also message us via our website contact form at the.physicsteachingpodcast.com, Twitter @physicstp, email using  the address given in the podcast (if we remember) or by leaving a voice memo using WhatsApp or Telegram to the phone number in our Twitter profile, +44 7898 814716 (don’t call the number, nobody will answer, just hold down the microphone icon and speak your message or upload an mp3 or ogg). Don’t forget to tell us your name because we may use your audio in a future episode.

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Ranking Tasks and Resources

Robin and Thomas go for another ramble … and for a walk in the country as well.

Thomas, Albert Einstein and Robin by a pool
Albert Einstein was in charge

They start by chatting about using self made simulations to enhance your teaching (especially now that students are limited in their access to practical work). Thomas had put together a cracking simulation to find resistivity on a wire in Excel.

Thomas has been looking at ranking questions, where students are asked to rank their answers in order of confidence, and he catches up with James de Winter who recommends TIPERs: Sensemaking Tasks for Introductory Physics which is available via Amazon from the link below. James is adamant as to the value of this book, so if you are writing your note to Santa, don’t forget. I’m sure you’re on the ‘nice’ list aren’t you?

The question that arises from this discussion is: where is the support for teaching in terms of resources? We have highlighted lots of excellent examples of resources and sharing, but we wonder where the collation might come from. If anyone fancies a project collating physics resources for teachers, how about popping a bid into the IOP’s challenge fund?

And finally, an appeal for ‘how to teach’ magnetism – tell us how you teach it. Don’t assume we’ve heard your tip before, chances are you have a new spin on a classic.

Finally, yes, Thomas did make a simulation of lead thickness and gamma absorption in another spreadsheet.

Links

TIPERs: Sensemaking Tasks for Introductory Physics (Educational Innovation)

Price: £23.99

3 used & new available from £23.99

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Please share ideas or successes – or indeed questions – on our Facebook Page: https://fb.me/physicstp .  You can also message us via our website contact form at the.physicsteachingpodcast.com, Twitter @physicstp, email using  the address given in the podcast (if we remember) or by leaving a voice memo using WhatsApp or Telegram to the phone number in our Twitter profile, +44 7898 814716 (don’t call the number, nobody will answer, just hold down the microphone icon and speak your message or upload an mp3 or ogg). Don’t forget to tell us your name because we may use your audio in a future episode.

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Long Answers (free response questions)

How great to reach out across the pond and catch up again with Patrick Kaplo (an early hero of the podcast who teaches in Windham, NH). He has been hunkering down and adapting to new paradigms, and it is refreshing to hear that the problems we are all dealing with are pretty similar, no matter where you are in the world.

Patrick has been adapting to less opportunity for lab work with some useful online tools, like Pivot (see links below!). It’s a commercial product but it allows your students to make measurements of real-life situations and so can help with data collection and analysis skills even if your opportunities for lab work are limited. If you happen to be doing gas laws, there’s a free lab simulation that Thomas has used with some success – see the links section for more!

This week we talk about long-answer of free-response questions – those opportunities we give students to give an extended written answer. We reflect that it is often a skill that is either undervalued, or under-practised with both teachers and students finding them tough going, and generally a bit unrewarding. Robin has an attack of pomposity and argues that communication is a skill that is vital to the scientists of the future, and so written communication is worth practising.

Discussion of the issue revealed that it is a skill we teach, and at some level we all ask our physicists to plan a response, and in building these skills, you might want to spend a bit of time coaching this planning phase (using teamwork, ideas on Post-Its, etc.). As always, if you have a resource or a tip to help people out, just let us know.

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Please share ideas or successes – or indeed questions – on our Facebook Page: https://fb.me/physicstp .  You can also message us via our website contact form at the.physicsteachingpodcast.com, Twitter @physicstp, email using  the address given in the podcast (if we remember) or by leaving a voice memo using WhatsApp or Telegram to the phone number in our Twitter profile, +44 7898 814716 (don’t call the number, nobody will answer, just hold down the microphone icon and speak your message or upload an mp3 or ogg). Don’t forget to tell us your name because we may use your audio in a future episode.

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PhET

Thomas and Robin meet outside, at an appropriate social distance, to remember Tim Hardingham and introduce an interview with the PhET Head of Development Ariel Paul (@DrArielPaul). Surely all physics teachers have heard of this outstanding free source of simulations and demos provided by the University of Colorado Boulder.

Support PhET!

PhET was the brainchild of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carl Wieman, and the 158 interactive SIMS are racing towards a billion downloads. Ariel tells us about the herculean efforts that go into developing new sims and keeping them up to date. It’s resource-intensive work and desperately needs your support. If you’ve used PhET sims, please do show them your appreciation.

You can donate directly or pay 89p for their official app for the HTML5 sims (and encourage all your students to buy it too).

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John Travoltage

Brazil Nuts

Thanks to Sophie Constantine for this excellent video that explains why Brazil nuts are not especially radioactive.

https://youtu.be/Pt-SMAVN898

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Mourning The Rev

There will be no podcast today as a mark of respect for Robin’s and Thomas’ dear friend The Reverend Tim Hardingham who was tragically killed whilst riding his bike with his family on Sunday 25th October. Tim was a guest in episode 21 of our first season.

21. The Rev

Below are Thomas’s and Robin’s personal memories of Tim who was a friend and mentor to us both.

Thomas says:

Tim was unique. A one off. A gentle man. A gentleman. I’ll never forget meeting him for the first time. I’m tall but he towered over me in his leather jacket and dog collar. I looked up to him then and never really stopped. There was no part of physics teaching where he could not provide support based on experience. I used to ask him questions that had bothered me for years and he would sit with me and talk me through it with quiet amusement. Amusement at the beauty of physics, amusement at the joy of talking about it.

Tim was outwardly chaotic at times and could be infuriating to be partnered with. Whilst you knew his side would be taught magnificently (I say “taught” but Tim just seemed to effortlessly magic the knowledge in to the students’ heads), my cheeky head of Physics (Robin) would gleefully tell me that I was responsible for prising the coursework out of Tim’s “filing system”. Tim’s assertion that he never lost a piece of work in his holistic method of stacking papers was an example of his solid belief that God moved in mysterious ways.

Tim was such a giving person that for a caring man of deep religious conviction, becoming ordained was inevitable. I think it just allowed him to do even more good. He was a quiet example of his faith and never thrust it at you. He knew I was atheist and would always reassure me that his assemblies were not overtly Christian; his Infernal Consumption Engine assembly was a masterpiece that only he could deliver and keep 300 fourteen year olds in rapt attention.

He was a delightful one-off and it would tickle him that I feel blessed to have known him.

Robin says:

It might seem a contradiction, to be a practicing vicar and a physics teacher, but once you met Tim Hardingham, somehow the puzzle became clear. Tim was pin-sharp, but grounded; fascinated with the physical world, yet deeply concerned for everyone around him. Even those who met him briefly were struck by this extraordinary man whose twinkling eyes and ready smile belied an uncompromising educator and intellect.
I first met Tim when I started as an ‘in-school’ trainee in 2008; he was a veteran, spoken about with awe by his science colleagues. We worked out that he qualified to teach the year after I was born (1970), and he had honed his skills over the 38 years since. Watching him teach I was in awe; would I ever be that skilful in the classroom? The answer 12 years on, a resounding “No!”
Tim’s teaching style was out of vogue at the time. He believed that physics was best understood by encouraging analysis and thought, and he would challenge students and take them outside their comfort zone. His method was more probing questions and challenge than 6-page lesson plans and learning objectives, so Tim’s methods were often out of step with the prevailing educational trends. Where superficial judgements on his teaching infuriated me, Tim was gracious. Typically, he was more concerned that others, less secure in their practice, were being undermined by adherence to ill-conceived ideology and it saddened him. Tim always put others before himself, and the only times I ever saw him angry and upset were when colleagues were treated shoddily.
Tim taught me valuable lessons by the score, but the ability to be gracious under fire whilst quietly following your convictions, is one of his skills that I will strive for and never come close to matching.
Time spent with Tim was always a blessing. He was generous with that time, even though his schedule was frantic, and when Thomas and I collared him to take part in an early episode of the Podcast he was enthusiastic supportive and – of course – fascinating. If I started to document all that Tim taught me about physics, about teaching and dare I say, about integrity, this post would run to volumes, and he would be uncomfortable with that.
So how to pay tribute to this wonderful man in a way that he would be happy with? I hope Tim would be happy that, when I have those days (you know those days) when it just seems… hard, my habit is still to ask, “What would Tim do?” When I think of how best to approach teaching a topic, I imagine Tim introducing it, and invariably inspiration follows. When I map the years ahead of me in my career and wonder how to balance the teaching I love with the increasing tangential demands, it will be Tim’s example that I follow. I cherish that in one of the last conversations I had with him, I was able to acknowledge this and tell him that I was learning to be “a bit more Tim”.
I think we could all do with being “a bit more Tim”.

A-Level RP: Specific Heat Capacity

Robin and Thomas are joined by Rajani Nair (@NairPhysics) who answered a Twitter call about A-level required practicals and was whisked in front of a microphone to talk to us. If you fancy coming on to talk about an aspect of physics teaching, just drop us a line in the contact form below.

Rajani had some really interesting variations on the standard Specific Heat Capacity practical, many of which would be of interest at KS4 as well as A-level, so do have a listen. Rajani shared a wonderful memorable practical which involves throwing eggs to demonstrate that smaller forces acting over a longer time are less damaging – to eggs and people. Thomas remembers the trope about standing eggs on end – he couldn’t remember the exact myth but it turns out to be “on the equinox”.

“Dispatches with de Winter” is our new regular feature for the podcast, with PGCSE Tutor, teacher, researcher and birdsong enthusiast James de Winter recommending a gem from the field of physics education research. James is wise in the ways of teaching and research and knows there can often be a disconnect, so “Dispatches…” will aim to focus on practcial advice you can trial in your classroom. James starts us off with an absolute cracker of a read: 5 Easy Lessons by Randall D Knight.

This is our last episode before half term so THANK YOU for listening, contributing, but most of all for teaching this wonderful subject. Have a well-earned break and drop us a line to say hi if you get a moment. You could follow in Rajani’s footsteps and be next episode’s guest. Don’t worry, next to Thomas and Robin, you’ll come off like Einstein! Happy Half-term everybody!

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IoP Domains

Thomas and Robin mull over the recent Nobel Prize for Physics, then chat to Carole Kenrick about IoP Domains and zines.

The Nobel Prize is still the ultimate accolade and viewed with envy by the fields that don’t have a Nobel Prize (in your face, maths!). This week we start by congratulating the three winners of the 2020 physics prize: Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel, and Andrea Ghez.

We catch up with Carole Kenrick (sadly without Benji the cat – see episode 8 of season 1 – he was hungry and had to be banished). Carole tells us about IOP Domains – a distillation of CPD resources made by our great friends and former colleagues at IOP. Links are below, and well worth checking out if you are teaching some physics and would like a bit of focused, high-quality CPD presented by some of the best in the business, then check out domains from IOP!

Carole also introduced us to ‘Zines’ – short sharp publications that raise awareness of breadth and diversity in physics – sadly aspects of the subject that are often neglected! Carole tells us how we can turn this into a game format that can engage students and teachers and raise awareness by stealth.

We reflect on how we have changed practice for the better – even amongst all the disruption of Covid – thanks to your tips and generous sharing of practice so a warm and heartfelt thank you. If you do have anything that you think might benefit the physics teaching community, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Please share ideas or successes – or indeed questions – on our Facebook Page: https://fb.me/physicstp .  You can also message us via our website contact form at the.physicsteachingpodcast.com, Twitter @physicstp, email using  the address given in the podcast (if we remember) or by leaving a voice memo using WhatsApp or Telegram to the phone number in our Twitter profile, +44 7898 814716 (don’t call the number, nobody will answer, just hold down the microphone icon and speak your message or upload an mp3 or ogg). Don’t forget to tell us your name because we may use your audio in a future episode.

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Ways To Teach… Under Covid Restrictions

(aka Elysia and her Magic Box of Physics)

Robin and Thomas meet Elysia (@PhysicsMumma) who helps them talk through the dear listener’s ideas for teaching under the current social distancing guidelines. She then talks them through her box of physics and introduces Frank the Flamingo.

Thank you so much for making such a great job of teaching with the Covid restrictions! Given the circumstances, schools have done an extraordinary job, and this episode shows how teachers will always find a silver lining. We get a raft of ideas from folk turning the situation to their advantage; for example using visualisers to zero in on the crucial points of practicals, using OneNote to ‘write’ equations for you… we could go on.

… and of course we are trying to fill the void with our excitement for physics! Lots of us jumping up and down and miming longitudinal waves. Future generations will have a precious clutch oif anecdotes about their “weird physics teacher”.

So put the earpods in and enjoy a whole stack of ideas for teaching in Covid and starting to build your “physics box”. What’s in yours??

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Please share ideas or successes – or indeed questions – on our Facebook Page: https://fb.me/physicstp .  You can also message us via our website contact form at the.physicsteachingpodcast.com, Twitter @physicstp, email using  the address given in the podcast (if we remember) or by leaving a voice memo using WhatsApp or Telegram to the phone number in our Twitter profile, +44 7898 814716 (don’t call the number, nobody will answer, just hold down the microphone icon and speak your message or upload an mp3 or ogg). Don’t forget to tell us your name because we may use your audio in a future episode.

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