I was incredibly lucky this year to have a fantastic PGCE student taking my Year 10 class. Great PGCE students really help you to question what you do and have done in the same way for many years and haven’t thought about for a while – I highly recommend it!
In this case, not only did she make me realise the usefulness of social media to hear about great opportunities for schools (our school, as a result, successfully bid to host a radio contact with the International Space Station this coming academic year); but the greatest thing I learnt came from when she started teaching the radioactivity topic. In a thirty-five minute introductory lesson, she decided that half-life would be the perfect thing to cover.
Ever someone who is trying to find the good in pupils’ responses, even those which seem pretty wild, I did the same for her and reacted outwardly positively if internally massively sceptically: “Oh, great! I have never thought to teach that first. What do you plan to do exactly?” Meanwhile I was thinking desperately “But this is the hardest part of that topic! They don’t even know what alpha, beta and gamma are yet!”
However, I could not be more pleased she did it – the ‘hook’ was talking about Otzi, the well preserved natural mummy of a man who lived around 3300 BC. She listed everything they found out about it, and then posed the question ‘How do we know it is from 3300 BC?’ Fantastic!
Why can’t they grasp the principle of radioactive decay before knowing what radioactivity is? No reason why not at all! During the rest of the topic half-life kept being referred back to and by the end of the topic it was not ‘the really difficult thing at the end of the topic’, but a very familiar concept.
So my new academic-year’s resolution is to move the order I teach things in. Perhaps I will do the disappearing coin trick right at the start of the light topic or build and analyse the behaviour of some complex circuits before worrying about what current and voltage actually are. After all, as a pupil, I think I would feel more excited about a lesson entitled ‘How does this circuit work?’ than one entitled ‘What is current?’, wouldn’t you?