Reaching out to physics teachers

Reaching out to physics teachers

For most of us, teaching physics to anybody would be hard (if not impossible) at the best of times. But imagine trying to teach physics to a class of Year 13 students if you yourself had little university physics training. 

Unfortunately this is the reality for more than half of New Zealand secondary school physics teachers. 

And it is the problem the MacDiarmid Institute started to solve through its physics teachers’ workshops, a popular hands-on programme for high-school physics teachers, run in 2015 and 2016. 

“Only about one-third of physics teachers in New Zealand actually have a degree in physics,” said MacDiarmid Principal Investigator and Victoria University of Wellington Professor Michele Governale who, together with MacDiarmid Principal Investigator and Victoria University of Wellington Associate Professor Ben Ruck, initiated the programme in 2015. “My dream is for every student in New Zealand to have access to a physics teacher who can inspire a life-long passion for science in general and physics in particular. Unfortunately this is not yet the case.” 

 

After successful workshops in Wellington in 2015 and in Auckland and Dunedin in 2016 (the latter in collaboration with the Dodd-Walls CoRE), it became clear to all involved that the programme needed to expand to include all of New Zealand. The good news is it is now being picked up by the New Zealand Institute of Physics (NZIP) and taken nationwide. 

Ahead of its nationwide debut, the programme has a new name—­‘Physics Matters—PD for Physics Teachers’. A pilot phase is hoped to reach 200 teachers in 2017.

Longer term, Professor Governale and Associate Professor Ruck plan to be able to offer three levels of workshops: Back to Uni, Physics Fit and Fundamentals.

Associate Professor Ruck says that supporting the physics teachers benefits not only the students, but the economy. 

“Having enough graduates skilled in physics is a key component to creating wealth through high-value manufacturing. We’ve seen how these workshops give teachers the skills to inspire students to keep on with the physical sciences. Now we’re ready to do this on a much bigger scale.”