Physics is Fun

Attraction, repulsion, and the ultimate goal – levitation – were the themes of the latest KS3 Challenge Day run by the Oxfordshire Schools Physics Partnership (OSPP) on 30th January 2014.

80 students from St. Birinus School, Didcot, Carterton Community College, Magdalen College School, Oxford and the Oxford Home School Group enjoyed a series of challenges from making and listening to a loudspeaker, exploring man-made and natural magnetic fields and playing with a levitating superconducting train, all at the University of Oxford Department of Education (OUDE). Feedback from the event was very positive – the liquid nitrogen was deemed to be ‘really cool’ by all participants and teachers valued the opportunity to bring 15-30 students out for a free event which encouraged students to think about the role physics plays in our daily lives and to appreciate how much fun physics can be! Students also got the opportunity to meet a number of University of Oxford physics undergraduate and post-graduate students who had all volunteered to help run the day.

The theme of fun continued with a teachers’ workshop about running Science Clubs on 25th February. Extra-curricular activities at school are highly valued and the vast majority secondary schools run a weekly science club. There are numerous resources available, with Science Oxford co-ordinating much of the local support. However, busy teachers often struggle to find time to locate these resources, hence the OSPP ran a Supporting Physics Teaching Workshop as an opportunity to try out resources, share ideas and advice and to raise awareness of the support on offer. Conducting putty, simple motors, rockets and levitating teabags were among some of the activities, with the highlight being the weather balloon project run by two former OUDE PGCE students, now teachers at Chipping Norton School. Their amazing footage, taken from 21300m (~70,000ft), can be seen here.

Teachers found the workshop to be useful and inspiring, showing them what can be achieved with a little time, effort and not too much money. We hope to see more local schools making the headlines with their science projects!

Both these events were organised and run by the Oxfordshire Schools Physics Partnership which is chaired by Rachel Harris, head of physics at St. Birinus School, Didcot, and is sponsored by the Ogden Trust. The steering committee currently comprises Sian Owen and Judith Hillier, from the University of Oxford’s Departments of Physics and Education respectively; Katherine Richard from Magdalen College School and Jenny Mant from the Institute of Physics. The Supporting Physics Teaching workshops and the KS3 Challenge Days are regular events, as are our Girls’ Physics Degree Taster Days – the next one being on 1st July 2014. For more information please contact Sian Owen.