Understanding Physics

12 February 2015

Last July, 115 Trainee Teachers were provided with a set of basic equipment, Joe Brock’s book ‘Teaching Physics Anywhere’, and training in how to run practical lessons that engage and stimulate. The aim is to enable pupils to understand physics instead of learn by rote with no comprehension. This is the largest group trained so far.

Tanzania

These Trainees are in their 2nd (and final) year at Morogoro Teachers Training College, and next summer will be posted to schools all over Tanzania. The expectation is that they will take the kit and methodology with them and spread good practice across the country.

We were able to influence the mindset of these young, enthusiastic and talented people (7 female, 108 male) away from the preconception that physics can’t be taught well unless you have a specialist laboratory and a lot of technical equipment. A frequent comment in the final feedback was that when teaching they now plan to make far more use of “locally found materials”, i.e. improvise with what is around them in the environment, and do as much practical work as possible.

A big difference this year was that all of these 115 Trainees were Physicists. In previous years we have trained a mixture of Chemists and Biologists with them, but their lack of basic physics knowledge hindered progress. This July we could move at a faster pace and go into more depth.

Tanzania

There is a huge shortage of science (and Maths) teachers across Tanzania. In response, a pilot scheme has been introduced in Morogoro (and one other centre in Tanzania) similar to a Foundation Course in the UK. Students who have not initially achieved the grades required to begin teacher training are encouraged to take a three month ‘Bridging Course’ to upgrade their skills and knowledge. If successful, they can progress into teacher training, which many have done this year. The number of Trainee Physicists in Morogoro has more than doubled to 115 in 2014!

Time was also devoted to visiting schools that had had training in the early years of the project, in order to gather data to help evaluate its impact. There are two issues here, we now run the project very differently to the early years, and working teachers are moved frequently to different schools. Originally the project provided a few schools with a large amount of equipment, and trained established teachers in those schools. Some teachers were quite set in their ways, and found it a huge challenge to adapt their teaching method to be more pupil centred. IOP-trained teachers have since become posted to different schools, but the equipment has stayed behind and replacement teachers do not know how to make best use of it. In re-visiting schools, most of the IOP-trained teachers had been moved away, and equipment was no longer being used to its full potential. (Most of the visiting time was spent hurriedly training and enthusing these new teachers.)

The current project overcomes these problems to a large extent in two main ways. The young Trainee Teachers are far more open-minded and willing to adapt to a new style of teaching. They are hungry to learn and have tremendous enthusiasm. The smiles and laughter generated while they were conducting experiments, and the ‘Oh, that’s what that means’ eureka moments were a big contrast to ‘traditional’ Tanzanian learning. Also, the equipment and book is theirs to keep, and will travel with them throughout their career along with the knowledge and skills gained. We are certain that this model of teaching a large number of young Trainees is the way forward.