By Katy Bloom
I am always being asked about the best way for physics teachers to progress their understanding of physics throughout their career. In many cases this is from teachers for whom physics is not their specialist subject, but their school or college needs additional support in the physics curriculum. We have also seen a rise in demand from specialist physics teachers seeking to deepen their physics knowledge and/or learn new strategies to teach physics more effectively
There are quite a few different options that a teacher can take to develop their professional expertise in the physics area. For those who want to become more confident teachers of physics, when it may have been many years since they undertook qualifications in physics, or it is outside their specialist knowledge, there is Physics for Non-specialists. This course looks in particular at the key principles needed to teach physics effectively along with the skills and strategies to uncover students’ misconceptions. This course was originally developed in collaboration with the Institute of Physics, using their ‘Supporting Physics Teaching’ materials, which are downloadable from their website. An external evaluation carried out on this course by the Education Department of the University of Leeds found that ‘evidence from two different assessment measures showed that pupils increased their knowledge of physics… as a result of teaching by the non-specialist teachers even after the first phase of the course’.
Following on from this course and for teachers who are more experienced and confident in teaching secondary physics, there is the Success in Teaching 11-16 Physics for Specialists. Participants will develop learning strategies to demonstrate how their pupils can learn physics by engaging with research (focusing on the ‘Girls into Physics’ research series by the Institute of Physics), and how to apply it to their classroom practice, using a wide range of activities. This course also includes an online component to extend and embed your continuing professional development.
There is a strong body of evidence that shows that for continuing professional development to be effective it needs to be supported and take place over a substantial period of time. The online component achieves this through allowing new ideas to be tried in the classroom, with the online support of the course tutor and course participants. This support network becomes a hotbed of learning, reflecting and refining.
The third piece of the physics progression jigsaw is the Inspiring Post-16 Physics course, aimed at teachers and lecturers who want to update their own knowledge and understanding of not only contemporary physics, but also to challenge the traditional practice of ‘lecturing’ styles to A level students. During this course teachers can work alongside research scientists, excellent physics teacher practitioners and examiners to practice new activities, approaches and experiments.
One of our success stories is a participant who came initially on the Physics for Non-specialists, graduated to Inspiring Post-16 Physics, and then deliberately made a move to a school so that she could teach AS and A2 level physics.
There is a strong evidence-base running through all our physics courses, so that participants can see the reasons why certain actions or strategies are taken. Action research also forms a key part of all three courses, with participants undertaking a ‘gap task’ in the time back in school between the two residential periods. During this time, they select a research question that they would like to investigate, and consider the impact that it has had on their teaching and their students’ learning. Teachers report back to us and each other on this impact, and find that this journey as a reflective practitioner has extended and deepened their practice as professionals.
You may also be interested in:
Katy Bloom in our Physics for non Specialists video on YouTube
 (e.g. Joyce & Showers, 1988; Loucks-Horsley et al, 1998; Darling-Hammond & Youngs, 2002; Adey, 2004). Such research suggests that targeted professional development should be implemented over a long timescale, include in-class coaching and opportunities for teachers’ reflections on any change in classroom practice that they make.
Filed under: continuing professional development, physics teaching, Science teaching, Secondary and Post-16 Tagged: | career progression, continuing professional development, Physics, Physics curriculum, physics for non specialists, physics training course, post 16 physics, science cpd, Science Learning Centres, specialist physics teacher, supporting physics