Teaching Forces to 11 Year olds

Thomas and Robin try something else new. Discussing how they would teach the first three lessons on Forces to 11 year olds.


  • IoP Spark @ 00:37
  • How would you teach forces to 11 year olds? @ 05:00
  • Guidance for a non-specialist @ 21:10


Robin and Thomas were back to basics this week.  With Patrick busy bringing physics joy to a new generation of New Hampshirites (that’s really what residents of New Hampshire are called – I Googled it and everything), it was just the two physics geeks getting together to talk forces.

Before we got to the main business we had time to welcome IOP’s new Spark website which gathers together and updates the resources offered to teachers by the IOP.  With a new section on misconceptions and a much slicker look and feel, IOP Spark should be in every physics teacher’s bookmarks – have a look at spark.iop.org.

If you completed our listener survey, a big thank you!  The results show that you love the Podcast, and particularly those episodes where you get tips and pointers for teaching specific topics, and so this week we zeroed in on KS3 Forces, with TWP asking the question, “What would your first three lessons be for introducing forces in year 7 or 8?”

We discussed starting with the idea of a “push, pull or twist” and asking students to think about ways this might work.  TWP uses a circus of different types of forces to get students thinking about pushes, pulls and twists and discussing the origins of different types of forces.

A common misconception is that movement requires a force (e.g. a tennis ball travelling over the net ‘must’ have a force that makes it move forward).  This is not true, and Robin said that he would like students to have been introduced to the idea that persistent motion is the natural state and that our experience of friction and drag make us think that objects slow down and stop.

Another concept to introduce is force arrows – an arrow in the direction of the push, pull or twist, and whose length is proportional to the size of the force.  Robin suggested re-visiting the earlier circus and asking students to add force arrows to their earlier observations.

It is one area when lots of practical investigation can aid understanding, particularly on the idea of resistive forces such as friction and drag.

Don’t forget to tell us how it goes and share your tips.  Details on how to get in touch are below. Thanks for listening.


Thomas’ Carousel on Forces might include the following:

  • a boat (origami will do) floating in a tub of water
  • ping pong ball with two straws and a zig zag obstacle course made with text books
  • popping toy
  • something static like a heavy weight on a piece of paper
  • wind up toy
  • flannel to wring out
  • pendulum
  • pull along toy
  • weight hanging on a spring
  • anything you can think of that pushes, pulls or twists!

Join in!

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), you could even email us an autio file if you are feeling really keen.


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