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Skip to 0 minutes and 2 seconds So with 11 and 12-year-olds, we look at sound. And a really tricky point in that is ultrasound, because it is too hard to hear. So that’s quite hard to discuss with the pupils. So we start looking at the idea of using dog whistles and these other animals can hear noises. And it always quickly gets on to bats and dolphin. So I’ve been doing a context-based lesson where I’ve been teaching the whole of the rest of the lesson looking at bats.

Skip to 0 minutes and 28 seconds And the kids think they’re just learning about how bats hunt, and we talk about how they can predict where their prey is going to move, but actually, we are looking at the theory of echolocation and calls, and how it reflects and they hear that, and how they can use that to judge. And that brings us on to also animals under water. And it’s quite good, because you get to bring in key words like sonar, which are a bit confusing in echolocate and ultrasound. But look at them separately, looking at different examples. And then you can bring in a little bit about babies and seeing unborn foetuses as they’re developing.

Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds But then I’ve always been hooking it back to people that can echolocate. So how we’ve learnt from the bats. We’ve learnt to make submarines that use sonar. We’ve learnt people can use echolocation, if they’re visually impaired, to find their way around. And there’s a really nice little clip on the internet that you can find really easily, where you can see a little boy who’s blind who sort of sees for the first time by echolocating.

How do we engage our students?

Without context to our lessons, students may leave at the end of the lesson feeling “What’s the point?”

Research on Science Capital has shown that providing a real-world context that students can relate to can be an important tool in increasing their science capital and thereby their chances of continuing into STEM-related subjects in post-16 education.

Some examples of context in lessons could include: a tennis racket hitting a ball, for energy changes, acceleration and projectiles; mobile phones and chargers to investigate current, voltage and power; and light-weight bikes to look at density, moments and gears.

In this topic on radioactivity, we include two sources of radiation that may be very familiar to students: a smoke alarm and low sodium salt. Other contexts that students may find engaging, but perhaps they might not be able to directly relate to their personal experiences, are carbon dating and using radioactive isotopes to power deep space probes.

In the video above Imogen talks about her perspective on bringing context into physics lessons. She has used the context of how bats echo-locate to explain the concepts of ultrasound in her lessons. Imogen takes this further to talk about how visually impaired people can also learn to echo-locate to find their way around.


We’d like to thank all the teachers we spoke to at All Saints RC School in York for their time and willingness to share their approaches with you for this course.

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This video is from the free online course:

Teaching Practical Science: Physics

National STEM Learning Centre