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This page is for my Physics students to access resources that I've found for your use or for the communication of things of import to my students
Links to resources.
An Opinion (put this into a blog type format?)

In teaching Physics in Papua New Guinea, I have found that a significant factor effecting students' learning, comprehension and understanding of the subject is reflected in the question: "What do our students bring to our Physics classes?"

The question asks us to think about the knowledge, skills and experiences that a student carries with them into the classroom and how this effects their learning experience. It is only after teaching 12A Physics in 2014 that I have come to reflect on how my own childhood (and later school) experiences, must have influenced my own scientific understanding and learning. Learning experiences that helped me to understand, "see" and accept, later formal instruction in Physics, were a fundamental part of my childhood play. Just owning and maintaining a bicycle (my first was a Raleigh RSW-11, Blue, I was 7, I think) required me to experience force, pressure, torque, levers, gas laws, heat, friction etc.

The toys that I played with during my childhood, have helped my understanding of some of the science that surrounded me every day. Reflecting on this and on my students' experiences, I believe that this play has had an even greater impact on my understanding of the physics around us than I previously thought - seeing, really is believing. Parachuting my toy soldiers into the garden, building model planes (thanks Dad), making a Meccano crane, getting my cars to make jumps with my Hot Wheels track, putting my trains back on the track when they kept falling off going around the bends too fast (although 240V through two bare wires, insulated with Sellotape to replace a 6V battery pack wasn't the cleverest idea), ditto for Scalextric racing cars, building with Lego... These, along with cycling, fishing and camping, were how I experienced, investigated, understood and "saw", physical (and chemical and biological) processes around me.

In school, these experiences were reinforced and extended through the teaching of the subject, through reading on the subject, through the practicals that we did in class - but the early childhood toys had, I believe, the greatest effect in grounding these theories and academic constructs in practical, real-world experiences. Whilst I am not saying that my Papua New Guinean students are completely devoid of such experiences, I do think that many of our students come to us with a much more limited exposure to "everyday" Physics experiences.

This, unfortunately, is exacerbated further during their formal education, through the general lack of practical work carried out in the science classroom.

Why is this?

There are many reasons behind this of course - lack of facilities, lack of resources, lack of teachers, lack of time, excessively large class sizes, the list goes on. However, even in schools that have few reasons to hold them back, little or no practical / experimental work is done. Anecdotally, one possible cause for this, postulated after conversations with my recently qualified colleagues; it appears that we have slipped into a feedback loop.

Students do few (if any) experiments or practicals in science during grades 7 to 10, when they get to grades 11 & 12 this does not facilitate them doing more practical work as the skills necessary have not been developed. At the end of their secondary school years, these students, who have never done much in the way of science experiments, choose to train as Primary & Secondary teachers. In UOG (anecdotally) it appears that little time is given to conducting experiments or training teachers to prepare and carry out experiments in the classroom. The result is that our new teachers come into a system where they never did experiments, their tutors never did experiments and therefore there is little chance that they will carry out experiments with their classes (never having experienced the importance of practical work themselves). This cycle repeats and reinforces itself.

In my limited time with my Physics class, I attempted to carry out as many practical experiments / activities as possible, ranging from the extremely simple (a temperature curve for melting ice / heating water) to more complex. Many were successful, some were less so but in all cases the skills of my students were woefully inadequate based on the level that they are expected to demonstrate. (My apologies to my 12A of 2014)

Students were, on the whole, unable to make reliable and accurate observations; they were unable to make sensible hypotheses when establishing an experiment; they were unable to isolate and control an appropriate variable / parameter in the experiment; they were unable to present an ordered, logical and clear report on the experiment / activity conducted.

Of course, in my opinion, this was not due to the students' failing but to our failing in not developing the necessary skills beforehand. This is of course partly due to the limited childhood exposure that our students have had, the lack of practical / experimental work prior to grade 12 Physics lessons, the difficulties imposed by time / class size/ materials / facilities / training etc.

Be assured that despite the difficulties my students encountered, the overwhelming response from my class has been that they have benefited greatly from the inclusion of the many experiments / activities that I was able to incorporate into their lessons. Students stated that they were able to understand concepts quicker and better and were less likely to be confused when they were introduced to the theory or calculations involving it. Students were motivated and intrigued by the experiments that they were able to carry out, they were encouraged by having a concrete experience that enabled them to "see it", as was often quoted.

So what can we do?

Firstly we need to accept and understand that experiments are essential to the teaching and learning of science. We must make it our priority in class to attempt to give our students a concrete experience that relates to the topic. We must improve our skills in the area of conducting practicals / experiments. In our school we must use the excellent materials and facilities that we have to the fullest.

Practically, we can insist that the school ensures that services to all laboratories (gas and water) are maintained in working order. We can organise / catalogue the resources that we have and arrange them appropriately so as to facilitate their use - we have a great deal of materials but staff don't even know that it is there. We can employ a technician to help us prepare the labs for students to use - an ex-student of ours that we can train to help us. We can insist that science programmes clearly elaborate when (and what) a practical activity / experiment is to be carried out by students or the teacher. We can establish a club to encourage STEM activities to help and enable our students to develop some of the skills they require to think "scientifically".

These are just some of my thoughts that have arisen from my teaching of 12A Physics this year. This piece is my opinion and is not meant to reflect on any person or student. It is put out here to provoke some thought on the matter and to encourage other staff or students to express their own opinions, in the hope that together, we can improve the learning experience for our students in Mount Hagen Secondary School.

David Ogles

What do you think?

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