Chris Daly, Head of Physics, Rickmansworth School
"I had fantastic physics teachers when I was at school," says Chris Daly, Head of Physics and Assistant Head of Science at Rickmansworth School in Hertfordshire.
"They definitely influenced my subject choice. I remember one holding a steel ball on a rope in front of his face and letting it swing away from him. He was showing that although energy is conserved it is transferred into other forms. Lots of the students thought it was going to hit him, but obviously it didn't!" recalls Chris, who is a Chartered Science Teacher and member of both the Institute of Physics and the Association for Science Education.
"I realised exactly how much I loved physics when I was doing my 'A' levels and we were able to choose a research project for our course work. I chose the life cycle of stars, but was absolutely inspired by the numbers of different areas of physics there were to pick from. It allowed me to see just how exciting physics could be," she says. Prompted by her enjoyment of this project, Chris decided to read physics with astrophysics at Leicester University from 1996-1999. Having rejected the idea of a teaching career at the age of 16 when one of her schoolteachers suggested it, Chris changed her mind after graduating and applied for teacher training.
The PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate of Education) in science course that Chris took at the Institute of Education, University of London from 2000-2001 enabled her to specialise in physics. "The sessions we had focussing with other physicists on how to teach difficult concepts were really helpful. I thought I knew the school level stuff well before I started teaching it, but once you start explaining it to students who maybe don't grasp physics easily it makes you question things and look at the subject from lots of different angles," she says. During her first job as a physics teacher at the Henrietta Barnett School in London from 2001-2006, Chris discovered she particularly enjoyed teaching 'A' Level. "It's more interesting because you can talk about cutting edge areas of physics. Also students want to be there, and are enthusiastic," she says, adding that she finds it fulfilling whenever her students go on to study physics at University.
Chris also enjoyed the educational theory she studied during her PGCE - which included learning about teaching styles, and educational research and initiatives - and so remained at the University of London to study these areas further via a part-time Master of Teaching Degree. She now makes use of this knowledge as part of a working group writing new curriculum material for her local area. "There have been lots of changes to the curriculum recently which provide a good opportunity to make school physics more relevant and exciting," she enthuses.
Despite her clear love for teaching, Chris says she is "proud to have a physics degree" and re-joined the IOP (having let her student membership lapse) to get back in touch with the physics community. "I felt I had allowed my focus to drift too much towards being a professional teacher, and was not engaging with other physicists," she explains. "I frequently get sent e-mails saying what IOP meetings and courses are available, and I'm hoping to start going to some of them soon," she says.