Hints and tips - 6 minute read
John Dewis - Physics Subject Advisor
A common theme of disaster movies and sci-fi shows is the acclaimed scientist scrawling some equations on a glass wall. These instances seem to have increased exponentially in lockdown (personal favourite, the unjustly cancelled ‘Salvation’). This raises many questions such as ‘Does it constitute criminal damage?’ and ‘Why does it smudge when I try it?’.
Now imagine a caretaker is tasked with cleaning the mess up. The equations may seem incomprehensible to him. The caretaker may have a greater natural understanding of science than the boffin who keeps writing on a wall in permanent marker. Certainly his aptitude for practical skills may be far superior. What may stand in the way of his understanding is the mathematical notation.
The development of mathematics is an incredible aid to efficiently solve problems in science. As physics students move through the key stages of education and on to higher education, the complexity of mathematical notation intensifies. Unfamiliarity with mathematical skills is a potential barrier (not that kind!) to progression in physics and related subjects.
The misconceptions that students have around science are also a barrier to progression. An excellent mathematician may be able to rearrange formulae and solve equations in an instant, but without a deep understanding of the science they may make fundamental mistakes in their approaches to solve problems.
This year, more than any other, the reduced contact time with teachers increases the risk that students’ misconceptions impact on their learning and progression. Over the next few paragraphs I have highlighted some resources from OCR and elsewhere that may help teachers navigate their students over any barriers to progress in their physics education.
Our exam hints resources for GCSE Science, A Level Physics A and A Level Physics B are a useful visual summary of the misconceptions that physics students demonstrate in OCR assessments. Misconceptions are also flagged in more detail in the examiner reports for each examination series.
The IOPSpark website has a section dedicated to the misconceptions of physics students of all ages. Misconceptions such as ‘heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects’ are addressed through a series of resources.
ASE BEST STEPS teaching resources, aimed at year 10 and year 11 students, are diagnostic resources to help assess student progress. This collection of formative assessment materials also provides extension opportunities for students whose knowledge of a topic is secure.
IsaacPhysics has a collection of physics problems to test students’ knowledge on different topics as they progress through their physics education. In one example, a teacher uses a ‘gameboard’ as a homework to assess the progress of students transitioning from GCSE to A Level Physics.
We have published some digital multiple choice topic quizzes for A Level Physics A and A Level Physics B that will give teachers instant feedback on student performance.
The GCSE science mathematical skills handbook outlines the expected mathematical knowledge at Key Stage 3 and 4 and highlights any areas where students may find the concepts difficult. Check in tasks are provided to assess student progress.
The A Level Physics mathematical skills handbook provides a similarly helpful resource for teachers delivering the A Level Physics content. Guidance ranges from using a calculator correctly to dealing with logarithmic equations which students may be yet to encounter in their studies.
Early in degree courses in physics and related subjects, students will often deal with three-dimensional problems for which knowledge of scalar products, cross products and matrices is required. Although many students will have met vector notation and unit vectors in A Level Mathematics, some of their peers will be more familiar with higher skills through A Level Further Mathematics.
isaacPhysics has some specific maths resources and problems suitable for students going on to study STEM subjects at university.
Our transition guides focus on how topics are covered at the different key stages. They feature checkpoint tasks and extension activities. They also provide information on the demand and approach at the different key stages and common student misconceptions.
KS3 – GCSE transition guides for Gateway Physics A.
KS3 – GCSE transition guides for 21C Physics B.
GCSE – A Level transition guides for H556 Physics A.
GCSE – A Level Transition guides for H557 Physics B.
If you have any queries, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Science. You can also sign up to subject updates and receive information about resources and support.
John Dewis - Subject Advisor, Science
John is the A Level and GCSE Physics Subject Advisor at OCR. John has worked in assessment for over ten years on international and UK physics qualifications and is enjoying working with the OCR teaching community in his current role.