Teaching physics: I’ve already made magnetic ferro-fluid and squishy Play-Doh circuits!

Physics was the subject I most ‘got’ at school, with a really tangible impact on the wider world around us. The internet, renewable energy, astronomy, a better understanding of the origins of the universe, driverless cars, Bluetooth, smartphones, wireless plugs – all made possible through physics. So when I decided to become a teacher, I was drawn back to it.

I’m training to teach physics at a SCITT, based in Oldham. The North West is well served in terms of science through its excellent universities and schools, facilities like the Jodrell Bank Observatory, Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, and a certain Prof Brian Cox is an Oldham lad (no pressure then!). Regrettably, it is also an area with some of the most deprived communities in the country. As such, it’s an area where a teacher can easily have a huge impact, spreading their love of science and inspiring young minds to flourish.

I chose the SCITT route because I wanted to get straight into the school environment. This way, I can settle into the staffroom, the classroom and the prep room and quickly get to know the teachers, support staff and – most importantly – the students. It means they can recognise me as member of the teaching staff from day one, and I get to apply what I learn to a classroom setting very quickly. It still involves studying for a PGCE as well as QTS, and I get university support, library facilities and academic resources to gain a postgraduate qualification. Being in schools from the start improves my chances of getting an NQT job at the end of the year too, particularly in a shortage subject like physics. I also share the SCITT’s vision to use education to improve social mobility and the life chances of local children at partner schools.

I’m enjoying finding my feet in my placement school and getting to know my classes a bit better – knowing (most of!) their names, establishing the rules and being able to do some fun lessons now that they’re getting to know me. At the advice of my mentors, I’m taking some risks (within reason) in my teaching by looking for interesting and novel ways to approach the curriculum: I’ve already made magnetic ferro-fluid and squishy Play-Doh circuits!

I’ve had a pretty varied career since leaving uni, but it’s possible to excavate that for educational and scientific applications: I tried to ‘make it’ in a band (helps teaching vibrations on a string, closed pipe harmonics and acoustics), worked in a call centre (communications technology), in a café (specific heat capacity), in a chemist’s (chemical reactions and mixtures), a bookshop (scientists gotta read), as a subtitler (explaining something in a more accessible way) and briefly as a weatherman (convection currents, changes of state), but most recently I was working for the BBC in their radio department as a producer, and a scheduler in the wonderful world of CBeebies! (After all, Mr Tumble wouldn’t do much tumbling if it wasn’t for Newton’s laws of motion.)

Changing career towards midlife is a daunting prospect, but teaching is an area which really allows you to bring varied talents and experience with you. While trainee teachers are all expected to meet the required standards, they are free to find their own style in doing so and it’s a very individual role.

I’d be lying if I said the bursaries didn’t help me into the profession, but that’s what they’re there for. Becoming a teacher is a frankly expensive career change, especially if you’re coming from full employment and already have a student loan to pay off. I’m grateful that the subject I felt most comfortable teaching allowed a viable option for training. With an acute shortage of teachers, particularly in STEM subjects like physics, it’s a job in very high demand with admirable prospects for career progression.

Being out of the physics loop for a while, I didn’t think I had it in me to become an IOP scholar, but reading the posts on TalkPhysics and looking at the video from last year’s sessions, I realised I had nothing to lose by applying. I was completely sold by the activities in the video and the fact I could get great ideas for tackling tricky lesson topics and practicals. I’ve got access to loads of resources through the IOP; not just lesson plans and worksheets but holistic ways to teach topics which build a scientific context around the teaching. I’ve already made some great contacts at events and got great ideas for school, and I’m really looking forward to the upcoming supertrips. These will be particularly useful later in the year when energy and enthusiasm levels are flagging, and I’m in need of a physics-y shot in the arm.

  • The Institute of Physics is awarding Teacher Training Scholarships to individuals who have impressive subject knowledge, a passion to share their subject and the determination to become an exceptional teacher of physics. IOP scholars will benefit from £28,000 tax-free funding, as well as a package of support that includes CPD, networking events and IOP membership. Find out more and apply.
Benn Cordrey

Benn Cordrey

Benn Cordrey is a trainee physics teacher and IOP Teacher Training Scholar 2018.
Benn Cordrey
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