My contribution to Science Week – I thought I might teach some physics

At 40 mins long it’s not going to go viral anytime soon. It’s the middle 40 minutes of a double class but in it we managed to learn about some of the following:

The structure of the atom.

We, and everything around us, are mostly empty space.

We discovered that the appearance of  ‘solidness’ is an illusion – which lead to a  discussion about how light works.
We learned that there is a cultural aspect to what we see (and you definitely won’t find that in physics textbooks) and that Newton himself was subject to this and it resulted in him making a boo-boo that still goes uncorrected right up to today.

We discovered that electrons are constantly cascading down along everything we see in a seemingly never-ending avalanche, powered by energy from incoming light (so when this power source disappears, the electrons no longer have energy to jump up or fall back down, otherwise known as darkness).

We learned why things feel solid – all to do with the force of repulsion between electrons at the surface.

We developed a deeper understanding of Newton’s Third Law.

We discussed the fallacy of language – know the word for something (like gravity) and understanding what gravity actually is are two very different things, and shouldn’t be confused with each other.

We discovered that physics teachers don’t have all the answers, and should never pretend otherwise.

We were reminded that because almost none of the above is in the syllabus, the syllabus is a disgrace. It’s no wonder students don’t see the point of it.
There were 22 students in that class and the discussion could have gone on and on – I had to kick them out the door.  One can only imagine the conversations they must have had over the dinner table that evening.

If only all those who make such a fuss over Science Week could put a fraction of that effort into making the school syllabus a source of wonder and curiosity instead of what it is – a series of dull as dishwater facts which are to be merely learned off by heart.



  1. I thought your video was great and I cannot understand why you were asked to delete it – we need to encourage students to think – to have the confidence to think, to even realise that what we are telling them may not be fully true. It’s the same in Maths – why do we hide the good stuff – the explanations as to how/why things work and instead pull out ‘magic’ words and routines that cauterise their learning. By making them do something/learn something without understanding why we are actually removing their confidence and their ability to reason – two of the most important life skills they could use.

  2. Hi Mary.
    I encounter this every time I introduce calculus in Applied Maths – the students may know the rules but don’t know why calculus was ever invented or why it is such a powerful tool.
    It seems to be that most teachers have never thought about this either and that is why
    (i) the wonder doesn’t get passed on to students and
    (ii) other teachers don’t make more noise about it in order to change things.

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