First series of workshops take place in South Africa

21 August 2013

The Institute of Physics (IOP) and the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP) have entered into collaboration to support physical science teachers in South Africa improve their competence in teaching the physics section of the physical science curriculum.

To facilitate this, the two societies have begun a series of workshops for secondary school teachers. The first of these was held in Soweto the last week of June. Three people travelled from London to Soweto for this work. They were Dr. John Nunn of the UK National Physics Laboratory, Mr Stephen Conduit of Highgate School, and Professor David Wolfe, the Volunteer Coordinator of the IOP for South Africa.

David Wolfe describes the first week of training workshops at the Soweto Science Centre of the University of Johannesburg.

There were seventeen teachers for this week, from Gauteng province (the local area), but also from Mpungalanga to the northeast and the Eastern Cape far to the south. John is the developer of the Virtual Physics Laboratory (VPLab) CD which contains hundreds of excellent physics demonstrations, experiments, and explanations. Since most South African schools have little or no equipment, this CD provides a means of showing physical phenomena to the learners. John spent half the week demonstrating the CD to the teachers and letting them explore the programme itself.

First series of workshops take place in South Africa

The demonstrations vary from simple ones showing how to measure velocity and acceleration to a discussion of vectors, which has proven to be a difficult concept for many students. More complicated parts of the CD show how fridges and car engines work and the physical principles behind them.

The rest of the week was a series of maintenance and equipment building workshops run by Steve Conduit. These included discussions ranging from inventory of equipment to the construction of simple and inexpensive demonstrations. Students were shown how to solder, the construction of continuity testers, a standing wave generator, basic motors, and a microphone/speaker combination involving a paper cup, a coil of wire and a magnet.

John and Steve had to return to London at the end of the week but I travelled north to Pretoria where I spent a day at the University of Pretoria working with Dr. Mmantsae Diale, a member of the SAIP Board of Directors. She assembled a group of teachers from Northwest province for the first week of July. I spent three full days demonstrating the VPLab disc and allowing the teachers to experiment with it. This ranged from Vectors and Forces, Kinematics and Dynamics, Matter and Gases, Electrostatics and DC Electricity, Electromagnetism, Quantum theory and Waves.

At the end of each session, an evaluation form was distributed to the teachers.  Some of the comments received were “Thank you. My life will never be the same,” “I studied chemistry at university but now have to teach physics which I have not studied. This week has made me confident that I can now do so,” and “I can’t wait for school to start again (after the winter holidays) so I can share my new knowledge with my learners and colleagues.”

This feedback was very encouraging and we are positive that the project will be a huge success.