Croydon Tutorial College

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GCSE Physics

GCSE Physics is generally considered to be a harder subject than Biology or Chemistry. To some extent this is true because of the many subtle concepts and associated laws that are the part and parcel of modern physics. Many comprehensive schools do not have a Physics Graduate in the science department, and this can have a detrimental effect on the good teaching of GCSE Physics. A recent UK Government paper on the level of difficult of the reformed GCSE science syllabus contains the following highly relevant statement. "It is intended that the new GCSEs in all subjects are of greater demand than the qualifications they are replacing. In addition to the subject content that is designed to be of greater demand, new GCSEs include questions that reward students who are able to draw together their understanding of content from across the course and who write extended responses. There is less non-exam assessment and all exams must be taken at the end of the course. For science GCSEs, the new subject content requires students to understand and use complex scientific terminology and to develop their mathematical skills in a scientific context. Exam questions will also reward students who can draw on their experience of data analysis and experimental design." The message is very clear "gaming and rote learning will no longer be a failproof strategy for obtaining a good grade". Inspired Physics tutoring should prepare student to tackle unusual problems that do not conform to patterns that they have been taught, and to be able to pull together elements from different sections of the syllabus. Calculations and manipulation of equations assumes a certain mathematical fluency. Tutoring, at its best, can provide insightful and adaptive approaches to build such skills and to improve confidence in problem solving ability to those that feel they lack it.

Developments in physics have resulted in a syllabus with greater content and in questions that are more challenging and require good reasoning and mathematical skills. Particularly when it comes to Physics, there are students who have a strong need to "get to the bottom of things" and think that they do not understanding something when it is presented merely as "a fact to memorise". Most science is experimental and good students are often the ones who keep firing away "why and how" questions that cannot be answered in the classroom context, especially where the class is relatively large. The emphasis in good science tutoring should not be merely to cover the facts listed in the syllabus and provide training in answering exam questions, but to provide context and examples that may not be found in a typical combined science textbook. A good science tutor should, for example, be a member of the Association for Science Education (in the UK at least). Examples in GCSE Physics of topics that can prove particularly challenging are those such as latent heat, waves and some of the concepts that Quantum Mechanics has brough to physics such as the quantisation of energy and wave particle duality.

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