Try beating the laws of physics;Secondary;Reviews;Science;Books

8th May 1998 at 01:00
Supported Learning in Physics Project series:

PHYSICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT. By Malcolm Parry and Richard Skelding. PHYSICS FOR SPORT. By Kerry Parker and Malcolm Parry. PHYSICS ON A PLATE. By Chris Barrett and David Sumner. PHYSICS IN SPACE. By Bob Kibble and Steve Miller. The Open UniversityHeinemann pound;8.75 each. Teacher's GuideBy Elizabeth Whitelegg and Christopher Edwards. pound;8.75

Martin Hollins welcomes a physics series which puts puts science in real-life contexts.

The launch of the Supported Learning in Physics Project (SLIPP), just before Easter, coincided with the Government's response to the Dearing review of 16 to 19 education. This was timely as both address the issue of how to make the current system more flexible, broader and more relevant to young people.

From the year 2000 there will be a stronger framework linking GNVQ, A and AS-levels, and increased emphasis on key skills and modules of study. The government hopes this will improve the participation rate in 16 to 19 education in the UK, which compares unfavourably with our economic competitors.

Candidate numbers for A-level physics have declined by 30 per cent over the past decade, resulting in a shortage of suitable applicants for jobs such asengineering. It was just this problem that led a manager at Ford's to approach the Open University in search of a solution - and SLIPP is the outcome.

Its prime aim is to encourage more students to study GNVQ or AAS-physics by providing worthwhile and motivating learning. To this end it provides a range of contexts for physics which should appeal to young people and presents them in the form of supported study programmes for flexibility of use, so that students can develop their independent study skills. They may even learn how to read physics for pleasure.

The topics have been carefully chosen to satisfy both a wide range of interests and the variety of syllabuses. Physics in the Environment is a good example, covering the difficult subjects of thermodynamics and energy conservation through the contexts of the greenhouse effect, motor transport and alternative energy supplies.

In Physics for Sport three (non gender-biased) sports provide excellent scope for the careful development of theories of mechanics and solid materials and fluid behaviour, through storylines of rock climbing, scuba and springboard diving. As a result sporting students should realise "The laws of physics are the ultimate rules of the game - no one can catch gravity out and no one can break Newton's laws of motion".

For those whose horizons are more domestic, Physics on a Plate uses food preparation to explore the physics of materials and energy together with electricity and electromagnetic radiations.

Rather different contexts for these are provided in Physics in Space which also covers optics, nuclear and quantum physics. This unit makes good use of the substantial public attention to astronomy. It includes reproductions of news items and interviews with astronomers on topical events such as the Hubble telescope, space probes and the implications of cosmic background radiation.

As packages for supported study, the units have a range of well-tried features, as one would expect from the Open University. These include friendly guides on how to use the resources, revision tests, self assessment questions with answers, time-guided practical explorations and exit tests to prepare for examinations. The teacher's guides indicate the all-important syllabus links for A-level. Given the aim of supporting GNVQ studies, there needs to be similar guidance for teachers of these courses. The guide also contains practical equipment advice and answers to the test questions.

The whole package provides a welcome and attractive addition for post-16 students of physics. Teachers should find it a stimulating source of ideas and guidance, though they may need more help in supporting their students in this worthwhile, self-directed form of learning.

* Martin Hollins is a senior lecturer in science education at Roehampton Institute, London.'Physics, Jazz and Pop' and 'Physics on the Move' were reviewed on May 9, 1997

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