Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Changes to Physics NC 1999 to 2014

Electricity and Magnetism 

I think that the new national curriculum does show an increased ambition for students. 

There is specific reference to potential difference and resistance as well as V=IR in the new curriculum. However, I imagine that most schools are similar to the ones I have worked in and teach potential difference as part of key stage 3, and the concept of resistance as something that opposes the current flowing. The extra activity will involve the students calculating resistance. We have fixed resistors with small values, that will be useful for this type of activity. 

Static electricity is new, but I don't think that this will take a lot of time to teach. Students are familiar with static electricity and the national curriculum doesn't expect them to understand earthing as a concept. If students have studied magnetism previously then the idea of 'opposites attract' should sit comfortably. They may also be aware of electrons as a concept from current electricity, if this has been introduced. 

Magnetism has been increased to include compasses, but these are usually part of schemes anyway, so won't be a departure. Including the motor as an application of electromagnetism is a bit different and will require adaptation of resources, but I don't believe that it will require more of a challenge than teaching the door bell or speaker. 

Forces and Motion

Looking at each section in turn, using the speed = distance / time equation isn't new, although distance-time graphs seem to be, they are currently taught at key stage 3. The new section seems to be relative motion. 

In the forces section, there aren't many areas that are not currently taught, except perhaps work done and energy changes on deformation. I am interested to know what this should look like, and whether it should be approached in the forces topic, energy topic or both.

We already teach Hooke's Law in Year 7, but it is more about developing the ability to draw a line of best fit and interpolate from a graph than about recognising when a material obeys Hooke's Law. Air resistance is taught in Year 9. Most schemes of work I have taught have also covered the difference between contact and non-contact forces, so schools may already have resources to cover these curriculum points. 

Pressure in liquids is not explicit in the 1999 curriculum, but this is taught in schools, so again should not be a stretch to develop lessons for.


The obvious addition is the mention of waves in water. As we use water waves to teach about light, I can see that this can be added into light topics. In the QCA schemes light came before sound, but teaching sound first, then light and water and finally being able to compare the three would be useful. That water waves are light light and transverse, but also like sound in that they need a medium to travel in. 

I have never taught the pin hole camera before (although I have made and used a 'real' one in an extra curricular activity run by one of the technology teachers), it is part of some schemes however. 

The human eye is something that I have not taught at key stage 3 before. As I write this I am wondering what level of detail I will go into about how the eye works; will I mention long and short sightedness for example?

The word frequency appears in the new national curriculum. I don't usually ensure that students understand that different colours have different frequencies. I think this is because I don't usually teach light as a wave, I teach more about the properties of light and what it does. Teaching that light is a wave introduces some new questions for the learner - what is it that is vibrating? Light doesn't wiggle, it is a straight line.  

Space Physics

This is the area where information seems to have been stripped out. Satellites haven't been included. 

Although the seasons and day length were not included in 1999, but were taught in the QCA schemes, and I also think I have seen SATs questions about day length and the movement of of the sun across the sky. I note that the planets are not explicit in either curriculum. 


Energy is the bit that needs work. I am not entirely sure how I will include 'simple machines'. Physics for you will help, I hope. I am also undecided of how to approach kWh as a unit of energy. 

The issue with physics is that we need to teach transfer instead of teaching transformation. Reading work by Robin Millar is a good place to start. e.g.  and

Teaching food energy, energy resources, and heating and cooling is something covered in previous schemes of work. It is interesting that convection is not explicit in the new national curriculum. I think that it is something worth teaching to recap the idea of density and prepare students for GCSE, where it will be necessary to help understanding of how insulation works. 

Power is an interesting addition. I know the OUP scheme from the early 2000s covered it, so there are resources available. 


The new addition is the reference to matter. 

It will be interesting to see the ways that schools and publishers approach this. I would prefer to teach the particle model in Year 7 chemistry and then use physics contexts to revisit the ideas. In that way we will cover the concepts written in the national curriculum, without needing to add another topic that recaps the ideas already taught in chemistry. 

For example, Brownian motion will be taught in air pressure, change of state will be taught as part of the heat energy topic as well as the changes to the spacing of particles as temperature changes. Density will be taught in floating and sinking, etc etc. 

Hopefully these observations will help someone. I will try and do the same things for biology and chemistry. 

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