Fellow profile: Christina Astin

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Christina Astin, co-founder of and mentor at the Young Scientists Journal, teaching and learning coach at the Institute of Physics, head of partnerships at the King’s School Canterbury, and science-education consultant

Natural sciences and management studies BA from the University of Cambridge, PGCE in physical sciences

Why did you first choose to study physics?
I caught the physics bug from an expert and dedicated physics teacher, Dr Eve. He gave up lunchtimes to teach us astronomy (O-level in those days), and opened up a galaxy of possibilities. I fell in love with the elegance of a subject that explained the workings of our universe, making it even more beautiful and mysterious than I imagined.

What does your current work entail?
Every day is different. Last week’s diary, for example, included running a science masterclass for primary-school children, researching a script for a teacher CPD film, pitching for support for the Young Scientists Journal, and delivering a workshop for science teachers on electromagnetism. But the common thread in everything I do is helping to widen access to an enriching science education for children.

What did you do previously?
After a brief spell in business, I trained as a teacher and taught physics at four schools over 22 years, heading two physics departments before becoming head of science at the King’s School Canterbury. Here I founded the Young Scientists Journal (an online science journal written, edited and produced by students aged 12–20). I became increasingly interested in science outreach and communication, and in 2014 established a part-time role leading the school’s partnerships programme. This allowed me to take on the IOP TLC post and develop the other work I do.

What does being a fellow of the Institute of Physics mean to you?
I’m proud to be fellow of such an august body of people, and the recognition that it brings is important in the science communication and outreach work that I do.

However, there is a far wider significance to the fellowship being awarded to a teacher such as me. Nearly 80% of physics lessons in this country are taught by nonspecialist teachers. That means that only a small proportion of pupils will experience the joy of learning the subject from someone who can explain it confidently, deliver exciting lessons full of wonder and experiments and inspire them to study physics at A-level and university. If the highest grade of membership of the Institute of Physics is being awarded to a teacher then that sends a clear signal about the vital importance of education and the recognition by the Institute of the value of great teaching.

After all, children are not born physicists: it is teachers who hook them, both girls and boys, into loving the subject from an early age, giving them opportunities to explore, and believing in their ability to understand it throughout their teenage years and beyond.

A 10-year-old pupil said after one of our science masterclasses recently: “This is the day I became a scientist.” He’d been hooked – but will he have the expert teaching needed over the next eight years to nurture that spark?

Do you have any other involvement with the Institute’s activities?
Yes, I am a part-time teaching and learning coach in East Kent, working with six schools to support their physics teaching. I also mentor early-career teachers. These are both roles within the Institute’s Stimulating Physics Network. Earlier in my career I served on the Institute’s Education Group committee and have written numerous articles for Physics Education.

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