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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre's online course, Teaching Practical Science: Physics. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds Hello, my name is Adam Little, and my name is Tom Lyons and we are Professional Development Leaders here at the National STEM Learning Centre here in York. In this course we will be looking at the question “Why bother with practical work in Physics?” This course is aimed at NQTs, early career teachers or teachers who have been asked to teach physics at GCSE outside of their specialism, with the emphasis on practical work. During the course we will look at 3 areas of physics including waves, we will not only look at different wave demonstrations and practical work, but how you can build progression of learning into that work.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds We will also cover electricity where we will look at how you can save time by building problem solving skills up with your students. From this we move onto modelling circuits, and addressing problems students have switching between circuit diagrams and real circuits, and also look at the voltage and current properties of various components. The first topic we cover will be radioactivity, where we will show you how to demonstrate this safely and effectively along with how practical work can provide a context for what students are learning. Throughout the course you’ll be asked to share your ideas as you progress through it, building on what you have learnt.

Skip to 1 minute and 25 seconds The overall goal of the course is that you complete this feeling you can teach practical physics confidently thus engaging and enthusing the students you teach. To get started then, complete your self-audit task

Skip to 1 minute and 38 seconds and post your initial thoughts: why should we bother with practical work in Physics?

Why bother with practical work in physics?

Welcome to the course Teaching Practical Science: Physics.

From Galileo Galilei’s early use of the scientific method in the seventeenth century, through Faraday’s experiments with electromagnetism, up until the present day, with experiments such as the Large Hadron Collider, at CERN – practical experimental physics has been key to the development of the modern world and to our understanding of the universe.

It is only through experimentation that scientists can test and validate theories. Through first-hand appreciation of hands-on scientific enquiry, the skills your students develop through practical work will be valuable assets that they will take with them into their future careers.

Adam Little, a Professional Development Leader for Physics, and Tom Lyons, an ESERO Teacher Fellow from the National STEM Learning Centre will guide you through this 3 week course, helping you to develop creative ways of teaching practical physics.

Over the next three weeks you will look at the following areas:

  • Practical work for 14-16 year olds in the topics of radiation, waves and electric circuits.
  • Contextualising practical work in physics to the everyday environment.
  • How progression in practical work impacts on students’ learning.
  • Assessment of learning through practical work.
  • Approaches to teaching practical science that can be applied to other topic areas.

The course map provides a summary of key activities and resources for teacher professional development.

Course support

Adam and Tom will be on hand until 7th August 2020 to support each of the three weeks from the course start date. Adam and Tom will also record responses to a selection of your questions posted to step 3.13 as part of the Q&A session. Please post your questions by 31st July 2020.

Tasks and discussions

As you progress through the course you will be asked to undertake several tasks each week. You will have the opportunity to:

  • Try out experiments and new approaches with your students.
  • Discuss teaching and learning through practical work with colleagues and other learners.
  • Share ideas for teaching practical physics with other teachers.

Tasks are clearly indicated and are highlighted with a vertical line in the left-margin - like the one against this paragraph. The first tasks of this course are at the bottom of this page.

Should you wish to undertake the practical work demonstrated in this course, take a look at the equipment list (PDF). Advice on how the equipment is used is provided within the course. Please note health and safety guidance in step 1.3.


Let’s get to the heart of the matter first. Why should we bother with practical work in physics?

Let us know who you are and share your thoughts to the discussion below.


When you complete a step on the course, click Mark as Complete at the bottom right. This helps you keep track of your progress. Mark over 90% of the course steps complete and you’ll be eligible for a Certificate of Achievement when you Upgrade.

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This video is from the free online course:

Teaching Practical Science: Physics

National STEM Learning Centre