S02E08 – Ways to teach… Ionising radiation

Listeners have been more than generous with some tips for ionising radiation and how to teach it. Thomas, Robin and Patrick introduce some great ideas and discuss how to put IR in context.

Wisdom and wit

Patrick, Thomas and Robin get together to tackle ways to teach Ionising Radiation with context proving to be the most common tip.

Friend of the podcast, Dan Toomey shares his love of the radioactive sources and how to build a radiation detector, while Sarah Nunn and Mary Wild both weigh in with some tips on the best ways to run class demos and to help students remember the relative properties of alpha, beta and gamma. Everyone loves a story!

Patrick, it turns out used to have his own nuclear reactor that the US government gave him (none of this is quite true, but in Thomas’ and Robin’s heads it always will be!) and he tells us some of the real-life ways in which he avoided being toasted – we’re so glad he did.

Horror stories appeal to the kids too, so Thomas shared this genuinely terrifying clip of Russian ‘safety’ measures, whilst Veritasium gets a mention for the fantastic video on the world’s most radioactive places.

XKCD.com/radiation is another great resource for getting kids thinking about how common and everyday radiation really is. The circumstances surrounding the Goiânia accident are as bizarre as they are terrifying.

For careers advice, tell your students about Medical physics careers and many more. Just one of the jobs you can do if you study ionising radaition.

Thanks to Dan, Mary, Sarah, Patrick and to you for listening!

HAVE A GREAT HALF TERM!!

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) 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). Don’t forget to tell us your name because we may use your audio in a future episode. Please do leave a voice memo: Thomas thinks nobody loves him.

The music we use remains One legged equilibrist polka by Circus Homunculus.

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Sparking a Debate: Physics CPD for Teachers

I have been like a kid with a new Lego set this month, unpacking IOP Spark and building all sorts of imaginative lesson plans with the finely engineered building blocks on offer.  When I was in the classroom, this sort of link to the physics teaching nexus was invaluable, and from what you tell me, lack of everyday contact with fellow physics teachers is the professional equivalent of solitary confinement.  

As we understand more about what makes good professional development for teachers, the problem of isolation becomes more pressing.  The quality of teachers’ CPD has improved dramatically over the last few years, and thank goodness!  We can all recall the bad old days, crammed onto tables with colleagues from every department; a fug of jaded resignation in the air; an overpaid consultant telling us that children are all unique (I mean, I had no idea).  Not so much profound as profoundly unhelpful.  “Think of all the stuff I could be doing…” our brains would scream in unison.  

Expectations have changed.  Increasingly discerning, teachers are less resigned to poor quality CPD. Unsurprisingly, they want their precious time investment to pay real dividends.  Teachers are looking for more subject-specific CPD.  It makes sense: as a physics teacher, which course would appeal more, “behaviour management in the classroom” or “behaviour management in the physics lab”?  

If a teacher is going to invest in CPD, they want tangible improvements for their students, and this is a challenge for any CPD: does it transform practice to raise attainment?  Subject-specific CPD is more likely to hit the mark here: the more precise and targeted the intervention, the more likely you will be able to measure a result.  Generic pedagogy will struggle to provide that level of specificity.  

CPD becomes punitive when driven by high stakes accountability.  It is best when it is collaborative, and participants feel able to take and give feedback in a supportive atmosphere.  This collaborative model is powerful (Lesson Study has beneficial outcomes), but physics teachers need the chance to share practice with fellow physicists.  A room full of teachers produces good discussions, but the richness goes up an order of magnitude when the teachers share a common specialism.  

Teachers are increasingly wresting control of CPD from the tyranny of “one-size fits all”, setting their own agenda, collaborating and looking hard for subject-specific development.  A rosy picture, then?  It would be, but for physics teachers, there are some dark clouds in need of a silver lining.  

The scandalous and sustained lack of specialist physics teachers means that on average, they have access to far fewer collaborative networks.  Generally, they also have to support the development of those drafted in to fill the shortage of trained physicists. Rarely is this recognised with extra time allocation or an increased CPD budget to allow them out of school to access their professional network.  

Higher than average early-career attrition combines with the overall shortage to leave an even smaller pool of experience to draw on when we look for the seasoned subject custodians so valued by young teachers.  These figures in turn are under pressure to counter a shortage in their schools and beyond, and so the cycle continues.  

I write this as we swelter in another record-breaking summer, politicians doubling-down on frippery and nonsense with elephants in the room increasingly becoming mammoth in scale.  Without a scientific plan for a solution to climate change and the associated environmental degradation, humanity faces a bleak period.  We must speak truth to power: physics will be at the heart of any technical solution and we must promote the subject if we expect it to save us.  

As we head, full of optimism, towards a new school year, my plea to you as a physics teacher is to make some noise in support (defence?) of your subject.  Politely insist that the unique challenges of your job are acknowledged, and ask how they are going to be addressed.  Point out the importance of physics in dealing with the biggest issues facing humanity.  Point to the pay premium attracted by physicists, not just as a factor that ‘pulls’ physics teachers away from teaching, but also as a great career choice for your students.  Schools are all about prioritisation, so make sure physics climbs the ladder.  

If you need help, engage with IOP for support.  Add to your credibility: become a member, get your CPhys, apply for Fellowship.  Make sure your school is affiliated and keep in touch with the latest via spark.iop.org.  To make a case for physics teaching look at Jenni French’s excellent summary from 2015 on the Gatsby website. 

7. Ben, Big Ideas and beginnings

 Ben’s Book

Thomas and Robin talk about the podcast’s roots and where it all started, to help all teachers of physics to feel a sense of professional community. You can help by sharing it with your friends, and if you do that you have a chance to win a podcast T-Shirt! The competition lasts until 30th November 2018 and the winner will be announced in the Episode 8.

We were joined by author and all-round lovely man Ben Rogers, whose books The Big Ideas in Physics and How to Teach Them is taking the physics teaching community by storm.  Ben tells us about cognitive science (links below); why he is not opposed to practical work, and how he came up with all the history and characters in the book.

Thomas enthuses about the versorium needle (everyone should make one). 

Robin was on his soapbox again (it happens, just ignore him) encouraging teachers to avoid the temptation to treat new ideas as how they should be teaching, rather to use the ideas to enhance the good practice you’ve built up.

Versorium (needle)

Ben’s References for Cognitive Science

…and finally

Don’t forget to enter our first competition. Win a beautiful podcast T-shirt (in the colour of your choice) by interacting! To win, tell us why you like listening. There are many ways to do this:

Thomas and Robin will pick a winner and announce it in Episode 8.

It remains an engrossing and uplifting adventure making this podcast for you.  You’ve already taken it in directions we weren’t expecting; it really is your podcast, so please get in touch: teachers of physics are our very favourite breed of hero!

The music we use remains One legged equilibrist polka by Circus Homunculus.

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Thomas and Robin

6. What happens when your jelly won’t hold your weight? Is it time to lose some mass?

Jelly chair aftermath

Thomas and Robin got together in the same room for a chat this week. Don’t worry, as a good physicist and a good engineer they avoided eye contact*. The big news last week was the redefinition of the kilogram which was originally based on the mass of Napoleon’s leg**, but latterly on a  lump of metal held in what looked suspiciously like a cake container. So we discussed misconceptions about mass and weight and about one of Thomas’ favourite experiments: the jelly chair.

*Well, that’s an unhelpful stereotype!  In fact we were highly empathetic and talked about our feelings extensively.

**completely made up

Competition! 

Now we have listeners, AND an Instagram page (@physics_teaching_podcast) we thought we would encourage you to share the podcast by having our first competition. Win a beautiful podcast T-shirt (in the colour of your choice) by interacting! To win, tell us why you like listening. There are many ways to do this:

Thomas and Robin will pick a winner in a couple of weeks.

It remains an enthralling and inspiring adventure making this podcast for you.  You’ve already taken it in directions we weren’t expecting; it really is your podcast, so please get in touch: teachers of physics are our very favourite breed of hero!

The music we use remains One legged equilibrist polka by Circus Homunculus.

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