Advancing the course of physics;Post 16;Science amp; technology

31st December 1999 at 00:00
Advancing Physics, developed by the Institute of Physics with support from industry and higher education, reflects physics as it is practised and used today. The course recognises that young people of 16-plus are busy inventing themselves, working out who they are and what they want to become. Beauty and mystery have a place, along with stories of people and industry.

The AS course provides a satisfying experience for students who choose to take it as part of a broad post-16 curriculum. At the end of Year 12 they will know more of what physics is about and its place in the world. At the same time the AS course provides a sound foundation for students who choose to go on to the second year and to take the Advanced GCE award. AS topics include imaging, information and signalling, sensors and quantum phenomena, as well as waves and mechanics.

The A2 course will enable the student to go on to degree level studies at university, particularly engineering, medicine or physics; at the same time it provides an interesting and stimulating experience for the student who does not pursue the subject further.

The course will appeal to and provide for all students, whether they anticipate achieving a grade E or a grade A. Topics include matter hot and cold, the exploration of space, nuclear radiation, field theory and electromagnetic machines.

Written by teams of practising teachers under the leadership of Professor Jon Ogborn, the AS course was introduced in 25 pilot schools and colleges in September 1999. Advancing Physics provides opportunities for students to:

* use their imagination;

* increase their understanding of the part that mathematics plays in physics;

* place physics in a social or historical context and argue about the issues that arise;

* make some choices over what to study and be rewarded for independent learning;

* develop practical skills; practise data-handling skills; use information and communications technology.

Students see physics at work over a very wide range of specialisms, such as medicine, astronomy, transport engineering and materials science. They gain a clear picture of the many things physics can offer, both by way of personal and intellectual satisfaction, and by way of interesting and productive careers of many kinds.

Not surprisingly, the first term has been an exciting and hectic time for teachers in the pilot. Both teachers and students are enjoying the challenges of this new course. Their experience is helping the development team to fine tune and improve course materials before final publication in May.

The publications package for Advancing Physics is ground breaking. For each year of the course there is a students' book and CD-Rom, and for the teacher an enhanced CD-Rom and handbook offering routes through the materials, all published by Institute of Physics Publishing. Many illustrations from the book are designed for discussion and so can be shown on-screen in class.

The CD-Rom includes software for image and sound processing, for data analysis and for modelling. An Advancing Physics website will publish learning resources which date too quickly for other media, and enable teachers to share ideas.

The course will be offered by OCR as its specification Physics B (Advancing Physics). All teaching resources identify key skills opportunities and allow for differentiation. Research and communications skills are encouraged and rewarded by formal assessment.

To help teachers start teaching this course in September 2000, both OCR and the Institute of Physics will be organising a number of short courses. And there will be a regular Newsletter for Advancing Physics centres from September.

At this year's Association for Science Education Annual Meeting the Institute of Physics Publishing is displaying extensive sample materials from the course.

There is also a programme of lectures, talks and informal drop-in sessions so that teachers considering offering Advancing Physics are able to meet the development team and pilot teachers to discuss the course.

When it began its work in 1997, the brief to the development team was to "revitalise physics, attract students, support teachers and influence the direction of future syllabuses". It is becoming clear that Advancing Physics has the potential to do just that.


Peter Campbell is a member of the Advancing Physics development team, and a lecturer at Newham College, east London.For further information, contact Ingrid Ebeyer, Administrator, post-16 Initiative, Institute of Physics, 76 Portland Place London W1N 3DH. Tel: 0171 4704800. E-mail: or visit the website: http:post16.iop.orgadvphys

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