One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve travelled the world teaching Physics in various international schools (Peru, Papua New Guinea, Norway, the USA and now Poland) is how the Physics that is routinely taught in the UK is seen as strange and a little weird when seen from outside.
I remember the total incomprehension of my Peruvian students when faced with the cavity wall insulation obsession of their British textbook. They also had problems with the tilt of the earth and the seasons, as in Peru the day length changes very little from summer to winter (in fact they tend to think of wet and dry season instead, with the exception of the dreadfully dismal weather in Lima for most of the year). This also extended to examination questions in supposedly international examinations. Questions about radiators are difficult for a student who has never seen one and couldn’t really imagine a use for one! (Papua New Guinea). I hope as a result I have become a much more culturally sensitive teacher who is in touch with the needs of my students.
However, in a roundabout way this is linked to my own obsession for the week; how I am becoming out of touch with my students because of my age.
I have always prided myself that my success as a teacher is based on an acute and vivid memory of what it is like to be a teenager, and up until fairly recently I have felt secure in this. However, the rapid changes in the world and my own imminent descent into senility have made me less sure in recent months.
I did my homework as a kid because there was nothing else to do once it got dark outside and Mum had put Coronation Street on. Of course this is far from the case nowadays and I’m not sure how to help students navigate the distractions available to them nowadays, I have enough problems myself resisting the lure of Facebook, Imgur and Guardian online (I should mention checking my resource reviews on TES too).
I also have problems with cultural references too. I litter my lessons with “Wayne’s World” related jokes and nobody gets them anymore! I recently wrote about using “Cool Runnings” as an example to teach speed – time graphs (article in TES coming soon I hope) and having to explain the plot to students who had never heard of the film.
How does an increasingly podgy middle-aged Physics teacher keep up? Perhaps I should try to get out more, or have more kids?! (Luckily my wife is unlikely to read this…)
Simon Porter works in Warsaw for premium international schools operator Nord Anglia education.