Going Beyond The A Level Physics Syllabus

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A-level Physics By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Physics » A-level Physics
Last updated: 01/08/2017
Tags: a level physics, beyond the syllabus, feynman lectures, gcse physics, gravity

A good way to engage students with the material they encounter in the syllabus is to expose them to inspiring material, which puts what they are learning in context and shows them 'the bigger picture'. 

A nice example of this is the BBC documentary 'Gravity and Me: The Force that Shapes Our Lives', which can be viewed here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpOOVJW69tg

The documentary traces the story of gravity, from Galileo's investigations into falling objects to state-of-the-art experiments, which have picked up the ripples through space-time of colliding black holes! The documentary does an excellent job of conveying not only the beauty and mystery of gravity but also how pervasive it is in our everyday lives. For instance, did you know that over the course of the day you can shrink by about a centimetre, due to gravity compressing the fluid in your spine?! I certainly didn't, prior to watching the documentary!  

Another great example is 'The Feynman Lectures on Physics' which are freely available to read online:
http://feynmanlectures.caltech.edu/

While most of these lectures are beyond A-level standard (they are lectures that were delivered to undergraduates), some of them are qualitative in nature and can be understood by school students. For instance, the first few chapters of volume I can be read by GCSE students, while chapter 16 of volume II (`Induced Currents`) can be profitably read by year 13 students who are learning electromagnetic (EM) induction. Given that EM induction is probably the trickiest topic on the A-level syllabus, and often leaves students feeling mystified, Feynman's characteristically clear and insightful exposition can be very useful for clearing up misconceptions. In fact, some of the examples he discusses often turn up in exam questions! I especially like the almost poetic end to the chapter where he discusses how EM induction lies at the heart of modern electrical technology. He ends the section with, "Modern electrical technology began with Faraday’s discoveries. The useless baby developed into a prodigy and changed the face of the earth in ways its proud father could never have imagined."


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