Learning to support other teachers is rewarding and useful


As a physics network coordinator (PNC) in London for 10 years and a teacher for nearly 20, I’ve worked alongside, and supported, many teachers with different experiences and science backgrounds.

As a PNC, I mainly run workshops to support the teaching of a range of physics topics throughout secondary education. Much of the support I give has been based on my own knowledge and experience in teaching and learning, and on what works well for me and, consequently, for my students. While I was trained to teach students when on my initial teacher training (ITT) course in 1999, over the past 10 years or so I’ve been mindful that I haven’t been trained how to support teachers. So when the opportunity came up to do a master’s in teacher education, it didn’t take me long to decide to pursue it.

One of the things that is apparent among teachers who come to my sessions is that they have a variety of different needs and expectations. This, I have observed, is linked to their subject knowledge – which is usually dependent on whether or not physics is their specialism – and their time in education.

For most, what they take away from a workshop on, say, misconceptions in electricity will meet expectations of acquiring tools to probe children’s preconceived ideas about electricity, and some strategies to tackle these. This is less valuable for very experienced teachers who would already have an established resource base for this kind of thing.

However, what’s valuable for all are the opportunities that arise in these sessions to reflect on their own teaching and the effectiveness of the tools they use. This is stimulated by discussion and sharing ideas in the context of the theme of the workshop. Capturing this and feeding it into a system where it can have a legacy (such as TalkPhysics) could benefit other teachers – and even more so if those taking part continued to contribute after the session. Ideally, these contributions would be developed by exploring educational research in the field in question, which can then be applied to the areas covered and discussed in that workshop.

New teachers will focus on surviving in the classroom, and, soon after, to what is being taught, and how. More experienced teachers can focus on students’ learning and how well this is happening. It’s difficult to measuring the effectiveness of strategies used to promote the desired learning, because you need to decide what you are measuring and then design a tool to do so effectively.

For example, after teaching a group of students about Faraday’s law of electromagnetism, what would be the most appropriate tools to use to measure how well students can appropriately use terms such as magnetic flux density, Lenz’s law and rate of change of flux, apply the equations correctly; and apply the law in different contexts?

Would a single end of topic test be adequate? Or should we design an activity (such as a set of well-thought-out questions) that get students to give vocal responses? Finally, how do we capture and record these responses? If some time was invested in researching these sorts of questions with one’s own students, then effective methods could be shared with other teachers in the network.

As a teacher, and having pursued the master’s course so far, I’ve found myself questioning my own practice and at least being reminded of some of the factors that contribute to learning that I sometimes take for granted.

Being given the opportunity to explore teachers’ views on topics such as the nature of science and how students learn has certainly given me an insight into factors affecting the effectiveness of our roles as teachers.

Some questions triggered in my mind are: Does it matter for teachers to not have a clear understanding of the difference between terms such as a law and a theory? Do we consider the differences in the meanings and applications of terms such as stable and equilibrium not only in other subjects but across the three sciences ? Do we perceive science to be creative and imaginative, and, if so, how often do we (and should we) tap in to this? Do students only observe, hypothesise, and analyse in science, and, if not, how is it different in science?

Exploring questions such as these has involved research in the form of short interviews, informal discussions with teachers, and, importantly, has promoted further inquiry and self-reflection.

I’m aware that the pressures, demands and time constraints in most teachers’ day-to-day experiences leaves little room to do research. That said, the act of reflecting on one’s own practice, exploring new (and older) views/literature, and trying out something new can only contribute positively towards our teaching – and therefore to students’ learning

Being given the facilities to plan and conduct high-quality lessons, which are reflected in student outcomes, is a rewarding experience. It’s certainly influenced my own teaching – and, inevitably, the content of the workshops I prepare for teachers that attend my sessions.

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Niloufar Wijetunge

Niloufar Wijetunge

Niloufar is a physics network coordinator in London as well as supporting early-career and non-specialist physics teachers as part of the Stimulating Physics Network. She has taught physics for nearly twenty years and continues to do so alongside her roles at the Institute of Physics.
Niloufar Wijetunge

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