Physics GCSE: 'insultingly easy, non scientific, and vague'
UK science education flushed away
Physics GCSE papers are full of questions that are vague, stupid, insultingly easy, political, and non-scientific.
So says secondary school physics teacher Wellington Grey in an open letter to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the AQA exam board.
Grey writes: "I am a physics teacher. Or, at least I used to be. My subject is still called physics. My pupils will sit an exam and earn a GCSE in physics, but that exam doesn't cover anything I recognise as physics."
Grey lists examples to support his complaints about the latest exam papers: one is a simple comprehension question that tests only a pupil's reading ability; another asks why a dark skinned person would be at a lower risk of getting skin cancer. Acceptable answers are "more UV absorbed by dark skin (more melanin)", or "less UV penetrates deep to damage living cells / tissue".
All well and good, but what about Hooke's law? Grey argues that questions so far removed from the traditional subject of physics amount to an ambush on the students sitting the paper.
AQA, the exam board behind the questions, disagreed. It told us: "The evidence we have is that the mark distributions for these new papers are similar to those for the previous papers so candidates appear to find them equally as accessible e.g. grade boundaries are at similar percentages."
It conceded that some of the questions were not well written, but explained that "some of the questions quoted are from specimen material", and are therefore not as well edited as real exam questions.
Grey says his pupils complained the exam did not test the material they had studied. He argues that they are right.
He says the new physics course allows for plenty of debate about science, but that "pupils do not learn meaningful information about the topics they debate".
In its defence, the AQA says: "Our specifications meet the new requirements for 'science' set by our regulator, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and are fully accredited. The revised requirements place a greater emphasis on 'how science works'. This is the entitlement curriculum for every student: the focus is on scientific literacy with the aim of engaging all students."
The letter comes as thinktank Civitas issued a report saying the school curriculum in the UK has been "corrupted" by political interference. The group says that traditional subjects have been hijacked "to promote fashionable causes such as gender awareness, the environment, and anti-racism". Teachers, meanwhile, are expected to help further the government's social goals, rather than impart knowledge to their students.
Civitas singles out science for particular criticism, while noting that "no subject has escaped the blight of political interference".
Author David Perks suggests that the new scientific curriculum will put more students off studying the subject. The report cites three independent studies that found "students exposed to [the new course] are less likely to trust scientists and less likely to want to continue science at A-level".
Further, independent schools are choosing to enter their students for the International GCSE instead, which still offers the option of studying the three sciences independently. Perks says this is creating an "educational apartheid".
Meanwhile, the DfES says it is not responsible for approving exam specifications. It sent us a statement saying: "There is much, much more to physics than precision and numbers, we would be doing young people no service to undersell it to them by focusing solely on these aspects". ®
Re:Brian Murray. Its Melanin not Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the Pineal gland which acts as a biological clock.
Melanin is the pigment found in your skin which gives varying shades of colour depending on various factors (environmental, genetic, etc.)
No worse than the current crop of existing graduates
No worse than the current crop of existing Business Mismanagement Graduates , some of whom have truly impressive fictional polished resumes , but many were so badly trained and educated that even adding up the sum of 2 plus 2 was beyond their limited grasp of mathematics! Others were so incredibly lazy and fixed in the lame retarded rhetoric that they were brainwashed with in their advanced learning courses that made them impossible to work with as a team , due to the programmed me , myself an I syndrome they tended to suffer from(I think they forgot one basic question , the teachers of this so called knowledge of business management , if they were as good as they claimed to be why weren't they out working in the real business world earning ten or more times their current academic salaries!)
I seem to recall some five years prior to the collapse of the late Ken Lay's personal fiefdom , the Energy Conglomerate? , called ENRON , that particular company prior to it's spectacular self caused implosion ,employed upwards of approximately 800 annually , and most if not all of these wankers who never saw the end coming literally!
As for education committees , as are all political appointees merely there to reflect the attitudes and hidden agendas of the prevailing Minister and his Permanent Civil Head , thus must water it down or write unintelligible wacky conclusions that only "peter principle adherents" can do so well!
Now since all political parties only supply idiots , morons and trained party lap dogs who can only read from the script stuck in front of their nose , we have no say in the matter anymore!
I recall , that all higher government funded educational institution have a hidden quota system and through the abuse of the mathematics of statistic's will pass a large number of incompetents and utterly useless failures in order to reach the self imposed hidden government minimum quota pass rate!
Sadly as with most government politically appointed boards and committees , they lack the ability to understand or comprehend the task put before them , but are merely employed as lap dogs to follow the relative minister in charge every whim and fancy that floats within the half brain cell that he or she possesses (remember we are only ever given mostly brain dead head in clouds party political hacks and morons as candidates to elect in what passes for democracy in the 21st Century)
Don't blame the committee for this fiasco , the real problem lies with both the Minister and the Permanent Civil Head . operating so well to reflect all scripts written for the late Paul Eddington as Jim Hacker MP in "Yes Minister and or Yes Prime Minister"
As a current student (AS Physics/Chemistry, AS and A2 Maths, doing A2 Physics and chemistry and the full further maths a level next year), i have to say that in this particular run of exams (all on edexcel) I have noticed very few "political" questions, with most of it being theory, however i would like to raise one or two other points....
In physics as part of unit 3 (the last of the first year), you do an option topic (edexcel only). these were originally designed to re-enforce (with some real world applications) the topics in the "core" units. these topics are:
Astrophysics (Thermal physics mostly, generally to do with black body radiation but with some rote learning of star life cycles and some understanding of fusion), the core parts for this are taught in the 2nd year
Nuclear and particle physics (a general introduction to the particles and forces in the standard model, but without the quantum parts), the core parts of this are in the first year (radioactivity) although most of it is new
Solid Materials (no one does it, its boring!) basically just hookes law and a couple bits that are also in chemistry about material strengths
Medical Physics (mostly on X-rays and ultrasound, as well as radiotherapy, MRI and other uses of radiation) Primarily based on the waves topic (2nd year) and the radioactivity topic (1st year)
Of these the most popular with schools/colleges seem to be astro- and medical physics, as the pupils will fall asleep at the mention of solid materials and run screaming at the mention of something as difficult sounding as particle physics (although this is by far the easiest! Little rote learning, just conserve everything except quark type in weak interactions), however this means that students HAVE to learn these by rote as the basic foundations are not taught till the year after.
The option topic used to be part of the second year, but it was decided that pupils would be more "engaged" if they learned some applications in the first year, and so this makes it less engaging as they understand none of the principles behind them...
Matrix mechanics by the way, earlier identified as one of the key things that students should have from an A level if they intend to do physics at uni, do not some up until the Further Maths syllabus, and due to the extra effort this requires (doing the Maths A level in 1 year rather than 2) many students will not get this far unless they wish to do pure maths later in life.
I would agree with the above poster that being able to derive equations by instinct does make physics and many parts of maths alot easier, one of my fellow students who I often help cannot do this, and suffers as a result, however there is little attempt to teach this in the modern curriculum.
The other problem with the education system is that work designed to encourage brighter students is often not recognised. I am yet to meet a single person outside of my secondary school (which was a private school) who has any idea what an FSMQ is (a maths qualification between GCSE and AS, designed to allow bright GCSE students to do some more work without causing too much worry to the admin staff when they do AS levels, contains most of the core subjects for the AS level), this includes the careers advisors, the maths teachers at my current college (although for one of them it is not unexpected as I don't believe he could tell his arse from his elbow..), in fact anyone at my current college, any of the places I apply for part time work or work experience (which includes some technology companies), or indeed a Cambridge admissions tutor at a recent conference.
I have been told many times on my way thorugh the current system that i could not be given extension work, the first was in primary school (year 5) where after being moved down previously due to a change in education policy (no child left behind, no child allowed ahead either), i was told that extension material could not be given "as the school did not have enough money to provide anything beyond the year 6 curriculum when Michael moves to the next year". This then resulted in me being constantly ahead of the class, and so I could easily doss about during lessons, occasionally stopping to help some of my slower classmates along in the hope of reaching something which I could not do easily. This did not happen until last year, by which point actually having to learn in school was such a novel experience that I struggled for a while because of it. To those that say that this is because I did not find extension material for myself, I will only say that I had enough understanding of particle physics, radioactivity and electricity midway through secondary school to have passed the relevant sections of the course this year, and my mechanics wasnt too far behind. The problem came when the areas of maths that got studied were different enough from what had come before that I had not encountered them except in vague mentions and so had not been interested enough to read up on them (calculus for those that are wondering).
I have no idea where this is going, (hence the lack of any essay subject in the ones that i am doing) so will just end it now....