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Physics of Christmas lesson

I tried this last year with a bunch of mostly KS3 classes. Think I’m going to give it a go again with one of my additional science classes. Might be nice to take the heat out of the pace of the year so far.

Magnetic field of Ganymede

I now teach KS3 science and with the inclusion of more magnetism in the new national curriculum it is important to remind ourselves about cool things. I consider magnetism in space to be one of these. I wonder what response I’ll get by playing a radio clip to half of my students and the other just the text. Bound to get mostly “sir, is that really you?’.

Flickr Astronomy: aurora and star trials


Flickr photo

Auroral displays are simply one of the most fantastic events you can see in the sky. That this is due to particles being accelerated in the Earth’s magnetic field always makes me think “cool”. Lovely bit of atomic transition physics going on as well. Definitely should be talked about in secondary school magnetism and chemistry lessons.

LDR Measurements

A group of my students tried out a quick experiment to investigate a bunch of our LDRs – mostly to see if they were all working and we decided that it would be nice to plot a graph of the results. This post is as much for me to find these results again for the future, but you never know someone else might find these useful for verification or just to confirm that at low bulb currents you do, indeed, get some high resistances!

LDR Current – Resistance

LDR Current - Resistance

LDR Current - Resistance

Physics of Christmas lesson

Well its almost Christmas and I decided that this would be a great chance to do a bit of extra engagement with a few of my classes. We have also just completed a whole term of (KS3) physics. This means we have encountered, forces, light, electricity and energy. So why not do a lesson of application that is not just an exam. So here is my plan (going to try it tomorrow) – well a rough write up of a plan with associated resources:

Physics of Christmas

Calculate the speed of Father Christmas
Explain assumptions made in calculations
Evaluate situations and suggest solutions

Starter: Ask students to produce a list of what they think could be physics to do with Christmas.

Main: Circus activity where groups of students spend 5 minutes at each station to complete a challenge using their physics understanding from the previous term.

Plenary: Students complete an extended piece of writing about the physics of Christmas.

I have created both a worksheet for students and info sheets / challenge for each station (see links).

Let me know if you try any of this, I’m going to give this a go and post my review of my lessons.

National Astronomy Week Lesson Plans

Just over a month ago I was asked if I’d like to be involved in National Astronomy week (2014) by putting together some lesson plans. As this coincided nicely with a visit from OFSTED I managed to put a few ideas together for their website. I’ve included them below, they are still rather drafty and will need bulking out for any class but the overall ideas and structure are there (bit like the Edexcel SoW).  I’ve trialed a couple of these activities and have made resources that I’ll upload when I get a moment…. but now back to the EM waves lesson I’m planning for tomorrow.


Title: How did Galileo observe Jupiter?

Big Picture: How do we know the Sun is at the centre of the Solar System?

Lesson Overview: Students complete a practical investigation to build a simple refracting telescope like that of Galileo.

Learning outcomes:

Describe how observations provide evidence

Explain how light travels through concave and convex lenses

Design and build a telescope

Outline of activities:

Task 1: Explore Galileo’s observations

Task 2: Use concave and convex lenses with ray boxes to draw how light rays pass through lenses

Task 3: Measure the focal length of the lenses from a diagram

Task 4: Use your measurements to design a telescope that focuses light to a point.

Plenary: Write a tweet @NAW? to describe how a telescope is built


Title: Exploring Jupiter

Big Picture: How do spacecraft alter our view of the Universe?

Lesson Overview: Students will explore what we know about Jupiter. They will design mission to Jupiter and deliver a presentation to their peers.

Learning Outcomes:

List the main features of Jupiter

Design a scientific experiment

Evaluate scientific options and present a reasoned conclusion

Outline of activities:

Task 1: Picture of Jupiter and Moons in hall, students have to replicate the picture and answer levelled questions. The ones who get the most point get a prize.

Task 2: Comprehension on Jupiter task. In pairs the students read out a passage back to back on Jupiter – they then have 3 minutes to make notes that will be used in the next task.

Task 3: You are part of an international team (group of 3/4) who are putting together a bid to put a spacecraft around Jupiter. (Each group is a different nation and are given a primary task e.g. exploring Io, weather formation on Jupiter, the effects of impacts on Jupiter’s atmosphere). They have an information pack and have to put together a visual aid and a presentation on their mission. Each group is given 1 minute to present. Each presentation is given a rating out of 10 by their peers on both presentation and scientific content. All groups have to write a WWW and EBI for the other groups. The team of 4 have to give a percentage of effort for each student – if you use vivos offer 50 then this will force a non-even split. At the end all groups vote on best design.

Plenary: Students write a tweet that they would send from their spacecraft


Title: How important is Jupiter?

Lesson Overview: Students will gather information on Jupiter and will create a poster

Outline of activities:

Task 1: Gather information from around the room on Jupiter – create a mind map

Task 2: Create a poster on how Jupiter is important to life on the Earth (SL9 is the key here)

Task 3: Condense ideas into 140 character tweet @NAW?

Model eye demonstration

I’m currently in the mist of teaching GCSE Extension Physics (in particular Edexcel’s P3) and there are lots of nice optics in there. In particular about the eye. I strongly feel that the students would understand how each part of the eye works by doing a dissection but alas we currently do not have the budget for this. Next best thing a model… not just a plastic one.

Model of the eye with fluorescence

Model of the eye

So how does this work? Well that is 4 litre flask (with some Fluorescein in) that has a beam of light from a ray box (would work better with a more directional source) and lenses on the front. You could put various on at once but I decided it was best to just do one at a time. By using different focal length lenses (representing the cornea+lens) you are able to show different vision defects. The paths of light are clearly visible. We then used different lenses in front of the model to show how the beams of light are altered. Basically we mimicked what an optician would do – giving a nice How Science Works link.




Using video in the classroom

During a session at University we tried out using video as a means of report making in the classroom. It was great fun using the PSPs to make short adverts that were designed to explain evaporation… here is our pretty awesome attempt:

Sucking an egg into a bottle

I’m currently teaching P3 and we are starting off with some kinetic theory. We thought that we’d start off with a couple of fun demonstrations. I managed to film one of my favourite ones – how to get an egg into a conical flask. Experiment to how atmospheric pressure will push an egg into a bottle… and then how heating the air increases the pressure and pushes the egg back out.

This little demo leads nicely into Boyle’s law.

Alien Life Lesson

A couple of weeks back I was asked to help plan a lesson on alien life to a GCSE class. In our 20 minute brainstorm we came up with what’s below and I suitably pleased with house the lesson went that I’d share our quick thoughts on this.

Alien life and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is part of GCSE science, in particular it is a physics topic. For this we decided that it would be quite interesting to add a bit extra to make the subject a bit deeper.


For a starter we got the students to look at the Drake Equation, yes I know this isn’t the most scientific and indeed some of the numbers are hard for the class to comprehend (doing this as group work would lead to differentiation giving a variety of information or different parameters for the more able to answer). The Drake equation is good fun as it exposes the students to a wide range of different numbers and the large scale of astronomy. It also has some interesting social issues in there. The idea that society could transmit, or retrieve, a signal for thousands of years is very thought provoking especially when you bring in the idea of 60 years or so for our society. So, you might be think, what is the Drake Equation? Simply the Drake Equation allows one to estimate the number of detectable civilizations in our galaxy. This was put together in 1961 by radio astronomer Frank Drake.

The Drake equation states that:

N = R x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L


N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy that can be communicated with
R* = average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
fp = fraction of those stars that have planets
ne = average number of planets that can potentially support life per star
fl = fraction that develop life at some point
fi = fraction that develop intelligent life
fc = fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space

Drake used the following:

R* = 1/year
fp = 0.2-0.5 (
ne = 1-5
fl = 1 (100% will develop life)
fi = 1 (100% will develop intelligent life)
fc = 0.1-0.2
L = 1000-100,000,000 years

They roughly concluded that N ~ L and somewhere between 1000 and 100,000,000 civilizations in the galaxy.

Using more recent, and less optimistic numbers gives much lower values, very sceptical values give very small values of N: 10^-20. So we would probably be alone in the whole Universe. A good discussion of these parameters is given over on wikipedia (maybe a chance for some research work?).

After this we went on to get the class to discuss how we would communicate and how we could detect alien life, what we are looking for, how we are doing this and why should we do this. This was done in groups with ideas discussed as a whole group. The students then went on to think how we could terraform Mars, in essence answering the question: what do we need for life?

We finished off by getting the students to calculate how far out into space the first radio signals that man sent into space will have now gotten? This is a nice link into history and the Berlin Olympic game of 1936 and the first TV signal sent into space. The students were asked, after being reminded what the speed of light is in SI units, how far the radio signal would have gone. This is of course the current year – 1936 light years. It was interesting to see how close the students got to the correct answer in metres. This could have been extended if they had been time via a list of nearby stars and to calculate how many stars are in that region.

I feel this lesson was a bit different to their normal work and they got to touch on many different aspects of physics and the world around them.