James de Winter is Electric

Season 3 continues to deliver physics royalty as James de Winter joins us. James is the physics tutor on the Cambridge PGCE course and has seen generations of physics teachers through their training. Having met a fair sample I can say that all of them hold James in the sort of reverence that Luke reserved for Obi Wan.

A talk with James is always an education and this episode is no exception. There’s lots to think about in terms of reflection on your lesson: James encourages us to stay as practical as feasibly possible during these strange times. Practical work has a far more tenuous grip in schools than it should, and there are a number of reasons for this, but the Covid crisis is yet another obstacle, so please please safeguard investigation in your classroom.

So you may think that you should always have a practical investigation for every lesson.. well, no. As James points out, we need to think about our rationale, and how to tackle the obstacles and what we want students to walk away with after their experimentation.

Robin rambles on a bit about the PhET simulation, and if that appeals, we’ve posted a link below.

James makes a good case for LEDs instead of bulbs for circuit investigations – they’re more reliable, they’re cheap, they’re directional and they are more consistent than incandescent bulbs. We’re interested in hearing how you get on!

We move on to a discussion of then classic core practical “Investigating how current varies with voltage across a component”. Thomas tells us to have a working version of then circuit for the students to look at, and James urges us to give this practical a firm context. If your students haven’t got a good appreciation of voltage and charge, they won’t squeeze the most out of this investigation. James’s advice: make sure you know the narrative that you want the kids to walk away with.

A discussion of the micro and macro worlds led to a word of caution from James: we need to recognise that our comfort moving between the large and the small scale is almost certainly NOT mirrored by the students and so we should identify that as a skill that we should explicitly teach.

Oh, and James’s practical in memoriam is measuring the resistance of an 8B pencil line.


John Hudson’s Radioactivity GCSE AQA – interactive independent study pdf on the TES web site.

The PhET circuit construction kit.

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