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Uncertain staff break the laws of physics

WHY do the stars vanish in the daytime? It is a question that puzzles many 10-year-olds... and it also stumps their teachers.

It seems lack of effective training means that many key stage 2 teachers may be insecure when dealing with sciences, particularly physics, writes Cherry Canovan.

They may even be unsure about the answers to problems set for their pupils - such as why the stars cannot be seen in the day (answer: they are still there, but the sun outshines them).

Stuart Naylor, principal lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University's Institute of Education, told The TES: "Many primary teachers are not secure in their knowledge of science. Many have had little science in their training and it is difficult for teachers to get support in this area."

Teachers may have difficulty with concepts in physical science, such as mass, rate, volume, forces, and the earth and beyond.

Seemingly simple questions, such as what happens to the weight of a bottle of lemonade if gas escapes cause problems. The answer is it gets lighter, but some pupils think the weight remains constant while others believe it goes up once the "buoyancy" of the gas is removed.

Teachers can take comfort from the fact that they are by no means alone. Mr Naylor said: "Intelligent adults without any science background function at around the end of KS2 in science. They do not typically understand most of the science in the national curriculum."

Ludicrous science blunders made in films and TV can actually help teaching, another ASE session suggested. Dr Jonathan Allday of King's School Canterbury said programmes such as Star Trek, featuring impossibilities such as "beaming up", could be used to introduce concepts such as Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle*.

Students could be asked why, when a TV space ship's engine fails, it plummets to the ground - instead of remaining in orbit, which would happen in reality.

Speaking after his talk, Dr Allday said: "The sort of kids that tend to do physics, tend also to like science fiction. If you can capture a little bit about a TV show and use it in a lesson you can make a connection with them."

*The uncertainty principle states that you cannot know a particle's velocity and position at the same time. So the Star Trek transporter machine could not take people's particles apart and put them together again correctly as it would not have enough information to do so.

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