If, as a teacher, you could create your ideal continuing professional development programme, what would it look like? For me, it would be hard to surpass the Institute of Physics Teacher Network, now celebrating its 10th year, which is free and has a satisfaction rating among teachers of more than 94 per cent.
More than half of schools are involved with some aspect of the Teacher Network. If you have not heard of it, the key word is physics. The network organises twilight sessions and day meetings: next time you are in the staffroom, ask your physics colleagues if they have played a part. There is a good chance that they will have built compressed air dragster launchers or fish tank-sized cloud chambers in a workshop.
But can it work for other subjects? Gary Williams, the national coordinator of the Teacher Network, does not anticipate a problem. "As teachers, we all know that new ideas for teaching are only any good if they've been tried in the classroom," he says. "Trusting teachers to develop their own expertise and spread good practice works for physics and I see no reason why it can't work for any subject."
The work of the Physics Teacher Network could be seen as similar to that of advanced skills teachers (ASTs), but Williams believes it is different. "We've provided continuous training and support for network coordinators over the past 10 years," he says. "I think ASTs are a good idea, but they have little central support. We all work as a team. We support rather than manage our coordinators.
"There are now similar networks being set up by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Wales Institute of Mathematical and Computational Sciences working with the Royal Society of Chemistry and even a network in Canada from the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. I think bottom up or grassroots is increasingly being seen as the way to go."
Some of the network workshops have now been attended by around 2,000 teachers, making them among the most comprehensive and widespread training events in the UK.
Alessio Bernadelli is a TES science adviser and was a physics teacher for eight years in Wales.
Celestia, Vidshell and Stellarium are all freely available and classroom-tested. For a full list, check out www.talkphysics.org
Physicists make their own experimental apparatus: coordinators show teachers how to make a compressed air launcher that fires small cars the length of the sports hall.
Taking the good ideas of physics teachers, making them portable and getting them out to a wider audience.
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