Although we’ll be adding blog posts about key reports and research relating to Think Physics to our resources section, I thought that it would be useful to gather together an introductory reading list. This will include books and articles which have informed the direction of the project, or the way in which we put together our activities.
Firstly, I would recommend ‘Delusions of Gender’ by Cordelia Fine, which looks at the biological basis for gender differences. [ Spoiler: There isn’t any really.] Here is a video of a talk that Fine gave about her work in 2010.
Research reports relating to gender equality in STEM:
- IOP Girls in Physics research (fondly known as the red books). The 2006 review of Girls in the Physics Classroom looked at existing research and made recommendations around encouraging girls in the physics classroom. This was accompanied by A Teachers’ Guide for Action which highlighted actions that teachers (and others) could take to make their classrooms more gender equal.
- The ASPIRES (pdf) research carried out by King’s College London, was a key influence in the development of the Think Physics project. Their finding that young people had already decided that science wasn’t for ‘people like me’ by the age of 10 provided evidence that our project should start introducing young people to a more realistic view of careers in STEM from a much earlier age.
- Not for People Like Me. This research report (pdf) was written by Prof. Averil Macdonald for WISE. It looks at why previous engagement projects with young people over the past thirty years appear to have had little, or no impact, on the uptake of physics and engineering by women. Prof. Macdonald recommends that rather than focussing on the jobs that people in STEM do, interventions should instead present ideas about the attributes that people need.
- Five Tribes: Personalising Engineering Education. The IMechE report (pdf) also casts doubt on the effectiveness of engagement projects that ask young people to ‘be like me’, where the ‘me’ in question is an engineer. The findings from a large scale study of young people between 11 and 19 found that that young people divide themselves broadly into five categories, determined by their values as well as their reactions to engineering as a subject and as a potential career. The IMechE suggests that interactions with young people need to be personalised to take account of these five divisions. We’re still working out exactly how to do this here at Think Physics, but the report is thought provoking.
- 10 types of scientist. This list of different types of scientist looks at where people with science qualifications may work, and identifies different types of scientists. A useful list when talking about careers with young people who still see scientists as only working in a lab.
1. The National Curriculum
All maintained schools in England are required to follow the National Curriculum. Other types of schools (academy, free school, UTC etc) don’t have to follow the National Curriculum (though many do), but must still provide a broad and balanced curriculum for their pupils. Think Physics recognises that in order to add value to the work that schools do, it is helpful for us to provide curriculum-informed activities and so an awareness of the national curriculum is essential to what we do.
- Key stage 1: Years 1 and 2 (ages 5-7) and Key stage 2: Years 3 to 6 (ages 7-11). Primary Science NC (pdf)
- Key stage 3: Years 7-9 (ages 11-14). A number of schools are shortening their KS3 to two years and starting working towards GCSEs in year 9 in some subjects. KS3 Science NC (pdf)
- Key stage 4: Years 10 and 11 (ages 14-16). Although there is a national curriculum at KS4, in practice schools pay far more attention to the GCSE specifications that they follow. KS4 Science NC (pdf)
- Subject content for GCSEs: All specifications must follow the subject content in science (which encompasses the national curriculum). New specifications are currently in development, ready for first teaching in Sept 2016. The subject content is split into single science (pdf) (which confusingly covers Biology, Chemistry, and Physics) and combined science (which will be used for double science GCSEs)
New Science A-levels will be taught for the first time from September 2015. One key change is that AS no longer contributes to the marks a student obtains for their A-level, but will be a standalone qualification in its own right. As well as this, although the content is similar to previous specifications, students will have to carry out 12 (6 for AS) core practicals (or competencies) with examination questions relating to practical work in the written exams as well. There will be no controlled assessment.
Most science teachers will say that you can’t teach science without using practical work. The discussion about the removal of practical examinations from Science A-level and GCSE has focused on the importance of students being ‘hands-on’ in science. However, research evidence suggests that although teachers are keen on practical work, the effectiveness of that practical work is not always clear. The Getting Practical project built on this research and aimed to encourage teachers to make practical work ‘hands-on, minds-on’. This article outlines the rationale and research. It is important whenever we plan activities that we ask ‘What is the purpose of this, and what are we asking students to think about?’.
4.Teaching about energy
Energy is a difficult concept to teach, and one which is generally poorly understood by both teachers and students. There is a strong tradition of education research looking at the best way to approach teaching of energy. Some of this has made its way into the KS3 and KS4 national curriculum, where energy stores, energy pathways and differences driving change are described.
Professor Robin Millar from York University produced a useful briefing paper (pdf) which describes the challenges, and possible ways to talk and teach about energy.
The Institute of Physics ‘Supporting Physics Teaching‘ materials contain further information about this approach to teaching energy. It also covers other ideas in physics including Electricity and Magnetism, and Earth and Space.
Teaching and Learning
This is a huge area, and not everything is relevant to Think Physics. The ResearchEd movement has highlighted the use of research in education, and that it is important not to base teaching practices (which to an extent include science outreach here at Think Physics) on how we were taught, but to look at the evidence about how people learn, and what might be effective in education.
- ‘Why students don’t like school‘ Daniel Willingham. A cognitive scientist looks at how students learn and how educators can support learning. (excerpt from the book here).
- ‘Strengthening the student toolbox‘ John Dunlosky. What are the best study methods for students? A useful article summarising different methods to encourage learning.
- ‘Teacher proof‘ Tom Bennett. There are many ‘Zombie theories’ which linger in education, and which have a limited research base. This book identifies a number of these theories and looks at the (lack of) evidence behind them.