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What makes a great physics teacher?

By James Dacey

This week, the UK government has announced a £2m-a-year scholarship programme to help persuade 100 graduates to become physics teachers. Each graduate who wins a scholarship will be awarded a £20,000 (roughly $32,000) tax-free bursary provided they have got a place to study for a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) in England.

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It seems that the architects of the new scheme are keen to attract the brightest physics graduates into teaching. Applicants for the scholarships will require a first-class or upper-second degree and be intending to complete a physics or physics-with-maths PGCE. The new scheme may also help to persuade older graduates to move into teaching from other professions, in the knowledge that they will no longer need to study for a year without a salary.

The scheme is designed to address the lack of specialists teaching physics in English high schools. According to the UK Institute of Physics (IOP), about 1000 new specialist physics teachers in England will be needed every year for the next 15 years to ensure that the subject is taught entirely by specialists. Last year 275 fewer trainees were recruited to physics teaching-training courses than were needed to start plugging the gap. More information about the scheme is included in Michael Banks’s news article from Tuesday.

In this week’s poll, we want you to draw on your own experiences of studying physics at high school by answering the following question:

What do you believe is the single most important quality of a great physics teacher?

A deep knowledge of the subject
Prior experience working as a professional physicist
An enthusiastic and entertaining teaching style
A proven track record of their students getting good grades
An ability to maintain classroom discipline

To cast your vote, please visit our Facebook page. And feel free to explain your choices and share your own school experiences – by posting a comment on the Facebook poll.

In last week’s poll, we appealed strongly to your inner geek by asking you to select your favourite from a list of the most familiar physical constants. And it seems that the issue is close to the hearts of our Facebook followers, as the poll attracted more responses than any previous poll.

The clear winner, collecting 42% of the votes, was Planck’s constant. In second place was the speed of light in a vacuum, which received 21% of the responses, and in third place was the gravitational constant with 14%. Avagadro’s number, Boltzmann’s constant and the charge on an electron took 4th, 5th and 6th places, respectively.

The poll also attracted a lot of comments. For instance, Lulú Hernández, who studied at the Escuela Superior De Física Y Matematicas (IPN) in Mexico, stands firmly beside her choice. “Planck’s constant is the best constant of nature, used to measure the energy of the photon, define the limits of quantum phenomena, among many other applications,” she says [translated from Spanish]. Another respondent, Kate Scaryboots Oliver, wrote simply: “Good ol’ Planck. never lets you down. Unlike c [the speed of light in a vacuum].”

Thank you for all of your responses and we look forward to hearing from you again on the Physics World Facebook page.

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One comment to What makes a great physics teacher?

  1. Vipul Bharadwaj

    Deep knowledge in the relevant topic is very necessary to teach physics but the most important thing that makes a teacher great is his/her concept clearing technique and enthusiasm of teaching. :)


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