Physics teacher to AQA, UK Dept of Education: Put the physics back in GCSE physics

07Jun07

After writing a bit about Part III exams, I stumbled upon this timely open letter from Wellington Gray, a physics teacher, to the UK Department of Education and Assessment and Qualificatioms Alliance (the equivalent of the ETS in America):

http://www.wellingtongrey.net/articles/archive/2007-06-07–open-letter-aqa.html

The letter addresses a trend in UK science education (but also very relevant, if not more so, in the US) that actual science is being replaced with politics or empty fluff.

It frustrates me that so many people mistake science with taxonomy. As Feynman once wrote, just because you know the name of something it doesn’t mean that you know that thing. Science is not about knowing facts, it’s a process. This process—the scientific method—is the child of the enlightenment and is rooted in creativity and curiosity. Teaching science isn’t about memorising the periodic table or doing well in Jeopardy. It’s about rational thought. The same rational thought that is the prerequisite of things like, say, democracy.



6 Responses to “Physics teacher to AQA, UK Dept of Education: Put the physics back in GCSE physics”

  1. Thanks for noticing this. My friends who teach physics in the UK told me similar stories last year. This is part of the fallout from trying to get 50% of pupils into university. They have to reduce the criteria for passing exams, and therefore the price of getting higher numbers into education is education!

  2. 2 Grey

    Thank you for linking to my site. I completely agree about Feynman.

    -Grey

  3. 3 evankeane

    i think that there may well be a problem with physics education in the uk. i was told by a teacher that Ohm’s Law is not taught for GCSEs!! (exams you take at age 15/16 – 2 years before A levels at end of secondary education)

    what exactly are they being taught? hmmm – maybe i will google for the curriculum …

  4. 4 cesar

    You should come at UFPE in Brazil!

  5. 5 evankeane

    on topic of gcse physics – i was in heffers today and looked through a gcse text book. it is very shoddy stuff – the big bang theory is mentioned before concepts such as work, energy, power, many other basics are even defined! they seem to want to mention all the ‘cool’ physics theories to attract students but can only give a very wish-washy description of such things as the fundamentals haven’t been taught first! it seems all this stuff that i read in Physics World’s Interactions and the like about making physics ‘more attractive’ is sadly true. It seems making physics more attractive entails dumbing it down – i.e. not emphasising the basics, and giving mention to most of the more complicated theories in physics with crappy summaries which are far less informative than a good article in Scientific American or something like that. I could not read thorugh the whole book as i was mad … and feared coming across a string theory section which was there in place of Newton’s Laws …

  6. 6 Liam

    Its very true.. I am an ALevel student and can remember back to my Physics education at GCSE.
    The worst part of this whole scenario is that if you want to take physics to ALevel it leaves a significant jump, simply because they feel they do not want to burden the rest of the GCSE class who have no interest in physics.
    It is utter rubbish, and rather recently ALevel seems to be dumbing down! I spent many hours studying momentum, Torques and couples, resultant forces equations (trig and scale diagrams etc) and none of this appeared in the exams!!! There was alos only ONE question on uniform accelerated motion (2 marks).
    So just to rectify, this exam was in effect, a written exam. Decribing experiements and describing graphs, and deducing which direction objects would turn if they had unequal moments (thats right, no claculations, just basic unerstanding i could have done from before GCSE) furthermore, all of this was donr in the practical exam, so there was no need to place it in the exam paper!
    Also next year (2008) they are reforming the ALevel and GCSE syllabuses, i cant think of any sources off the top of my head, but it again is inending to make science more ‘fun’! Personally, if you dont find science fun, then that is tough! I never found english fun, but they never made that any easier!



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