Atse conference august 2011 celebrating university school partnerships
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ATSE conference August 2011 Celebrating University /School Partnerships. A tale of two parts…. ATSE conference 23 August2011 ASE headquarters, Hatfield.

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ATSE conferenceAugust 2011Celebrating University /School Partnerships

A tale of two parts…

ATSE conference 23 August2011

ASE headquarters, Hatfield

Engaging students with physics: an evaluation of the national “Action Research for Physics” programme

Caro Garrett (

Willeke Rietdijk

Marcus Grace

ARPP slides: Willeke Rietdijk

ATSE conference 23 August2011

ASE headquarters, Hatfield

The Action Research for PhysicsProgramme (ARPP)

  • Research commissioned by the National Network of Science Learning Centres and DCSF.

  • Organised and managed by the nine Regional Science Learning Centres between September 2009 and February 2011.

The ARP programme followed on from the findings and recommendations of the Girls in the Physics Classroom (Hollins et al., 2006) and Girls into Physics(Daly et al., 2009)projects.

The course

  • A model of professional development incorporating action research, with, as its aims:

    • to try out new approaches to teaching physics...

    • ...which lead to an increase in young people’s engagement with the subject...

    • ...and pursuit of physics beyond GCSE level.

Programme content

  • 3 separate CPD sessions of one day, focusing on:

    • action research theory and explanation;

    • physics teaching strategies;

    • feedback from individual

      teacher’s action research findings

  • 2 rounds of action research in between the 3 sessions

    • Intervention in one of the 6 strands from the Girls into Physics project: Careers, Teaching & Learning; School Culture; Progression; Classroom Management; Workforce

    • Intervention to be developed over 2 rounds of action research to incorporate feedback from first round in second round

Main aims of the evaluation

i) to examine the effectiveness of the programme in changing pupils’ attitudes to physics, and their aspirations for further studies (where possible, to follow pupils and ascertain actual numbers continuing beyond year 11 with physics studies)

ii) to document and categorise the nature of effective practice across the action research case studies.

Teacher participant profiles

  • 110 completed baseline questionnaire: 61 female, 49 male

  • Subject backgrounds: 60 physics, 14 biology, 10 chemistry, 16 other

  • Physics related qualifications: 6 PhD, 15 Masters, 49 Bachelors, 12 A level, 10 GCSE

  • Teaching experience: 2 < 1 year, 44 1-5 years, 24 6-10 years, 40 > 10 years.

  • 64 completed final reports

Examples of teacher projects

  • Interventions in the area of Teaching and Learning covered the following main areas:

    • Questioning techniques

    • Collaborative work / experimenting with single-gender/mixed-gender groups; grouping according to level (single or mixed)

    • Bringing in the context and applications at the beginning of a topic

    • Generally bringing in more real-life context into the lesson

    • More practical work

    • Working with concept maps

    • Using video peer assessment strategies

    • Use of more/new/creative/different/visual  materials

    • Bringing in more cutting edge/wow! physics and addressing “the big questions”

    • Including more discussion

    • Reducing textbook work

    • Going outside the classroom more

    • Bringing in cross-curricular activities/lesson plans

  • Careers and Guidance interventions often consisted of the following activities:

    • Getting outside speakers in; setting up physics clubs

    • Letting students research careers and/or do presentations about what physicists do

    • Posters/displays up in corridor/classrooms and regular updating of these

Research Methods of the Evaluation Research


  • 3 Pupil Questionnaires

  • 2 Teacher questionnaires

  • ‘Year above’ Control group pupil questionnaire

  • Teachers’ Senior Managers Questionnaires


  • 2 rounds of Pupil Focus group meetings

  • Teacher focus group meetings at each SLC at the end of the programme to assess impact of taking part in course

  • 1:1 Course tutor interviews about their views on the success of the programme and any recommendations for future running of the course

Statistical relationships


Interest in physics

Experienced difficulty level of physics

Physics careers talks reported

Post-16 take-up of physics intention

Lessons aimed at which gender

Amount of links reported with

Other subjects

Everyday life

Worldwide issues

  • Gender differences in:

    • Interest

    • Difficulty level experienced

    • Intention to take up physics post-16

    • Reported level of discussion time/reflection time

    • Lessons aimed at which gender


Pupil Questionnaire 3 (after teachers’ 2nd rounds of action research)

  • (958 pupils (38 groups) completed; 58% female)

  • More than a third find physics more interesting, and 25% find it less difficult than before (20% find it more difficult!)

  • Girls keep finding physics significantly less interesting and significantly more difficult than boys (words/terms used in physics as well)

  • Girls now seem more decided about choosing physics post-16 (positively or negatively; boys show more intention of choosing it; % girls ‘very likely’ or ‘definitely’ choosing physics post-16 has also slightly increased)

  • Pupils are now most interested in their physics lessons when they feel these are aimed equally at both genders and least when they are aimed at the opposite gender

  • Pupils are now significantly more interested in physics when teachers make more links with global and social issues more (before this link was only with everyday life)

Comparisons between PQ1, 2 and 3^ ^Significant difference in answers to question between baseline and interim measurement*Significant difference in answers to question between baseline and final measurement**Significant difference in answers to question between interim and final measurement

Final Teacher Questionnaire

  • 64 completed this out of 110 teachers starting the Programme

  • 56.3% were ‘very positive’ about taking part in the ARP Programme, 42.2% ‘positive’

  • 95% felt it had been effective in increasing their pupils’ engagement with physics (25% ‘very effective’; 70% ‘quite effective’)

  • 64% felt an increased motivation/enthusiasm to teach physics since starting the programme; 50% said their own interest in physics had increased

  • 86% have made changes to their classes as a result of the programme as a whole; 50% have made changes to their schemes of work

  • 72% increased discussion time; 58% increased reflection time

  • 91% feel they have learnt quite a lot, or a lot about action research

  • 100% find action research useful for improving classroom practice

  • Many teachers (39%) say their learning is being applied by their colleagues, and also on a wider school level in 31% of cases, and in other schools in 11% of cases

  • These teachers significantly more often than before the Programme:

    • Link physics with everyday life in lessons

    • Use gender-neutral examples

Increase in teacher confidence levels

  • Large percentages of these 64 teachers are now feeling more confident than before the Programme in:

    • Getting pupils/girls engaged in physics (78%/56% feel more confident)

    • Making physics relevant (78%)

    • Boosting pupils’/girls’ confidence in physics (63%/59%)

    • Increasing pupils’ awareness of careers/futures in physics (70%)

    • Making abstract physics more ‘visible’ for pupils (70%)

    • Making the most of resources (62%)

Comparisons between Final Pupil Questionnaire and the Control (‘Year Above’) group

  • 656 control group respondents

  • Compared only between schools of which Final Pupil Questionnaire received

  • Significant differences of Final Pupil Questionnaire with Control Group:

    • Reduced experienced level of difficulty of physics, and of words/terms used

    • Increase in pupil interest in physics

    • Increase in likelihood of post-16 physics uptake

    • Increase in reported reflection time

    • Higher number of reported careers talks, esp. by science teachers

Summary of Focus GroupMeetings Prior to interventions

  • “Physics deals with unanswered questions; it is not common knowledge, we don’t know everything about it yet – which makes it fascinating”

  • “Boring” aspects often mentioned are: circuits, friction, and a feeling of lots of repetition.

  • Maths is most often mentioned as a difficult aspect.

  • Frustrating aspects often mentioned are: the lack of deeper explanations about how things work, and that in physics it is harder to ‘see’ things happening (especially by girls).

  • Physics practicals are generally very much enjoyed, and found helpful.

  • Most groups say careers are hardly mentioned in class and that they don’t have much of an idea what you can do with physics.

  • Girls more often feel that physics is a male-oriented profession and are not eager to enter into if there are few women there.

  • In many groups it is felt there is quite a lot of time for discussion in class.

  • Many feel that they should be taken out of the classroom more – more activities around the school, but also physics trips are much desired.

Teacher focus group meetings

  • 9 held at end of CPD day 3 at all Science Learning Centres (live or VC)

  • Teachers very positive about the benefits for their practice of discussing classroom strategies and ideas with other teachers on the course

  • Many teachers feel formal engagement with action research has had many benefits

    • realise they do it all the time,

    • but the course ensured greater focus,

    • and the cyclical nature of action research impacted more on their practice

    • some say they will try to do this more often

  • Many teachers feel pupils are more engaged now

  • Discussion in class is found to be extremely useful

  • Many teachers not sure of impact on post-16 take-up (hard to tell – and even if increased take-up, what are the reasons?)

Part 2

  • Celebrating University /School Partnerships

  • Revisit an earlier slide…..

The Action Research for PhysicsProgramme (ARPP)

  • Research commissioned by the National Network of Science Learning Centres and DCSF.

  • Organised and managed by the nine Regional Science Learning Centres between September 2009 and February 2011.

The ARP programme followed on from the findings and recommendations of the Girls in the Physics Classroom (Hollins et al., 2006) and Girls into Physics(Daly et al., 2009)projects.

School/university partnership?

  • CPD

  • Are you a teacher or a researcher? 2/3 strand contracts.

  • Input on PGCE?

  • Engagement with school mentors?

  • Link with SLCs?

  • Action Research in the schools we work with?

  • Teaching Schools??????????????????????????

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