Advanced Higher Physics Workshops
This week my department runs a workshop on rotational motion for local Advanced Higher physics high school pupils. The Advanced Higher is the highest school qualification in Scotland typically taken by University bound final year students. This is an annual event in our calendar and we will welcome around 180 or so pupils over the course of the week.
We are also part of another event to be held in a few weeks at the University of St. Andrews, called ‘The Day of Physics‘. This event gives students the chance to experience a day in the life of an first year physics undergraduate (minus the pub crawls and visit to the student union), with a lab class, lecture and then some general interest talks on physics research, careers and the like. It too is an annual fixture on the calendar and is equally popular with schools from Fife and Tayside.
Our event is interesting as it highlights the gulf between school and university funding, in that the majority of schools come to the workshop as we have equipment that they do not have, or if they do have , they one have one set of. One of the things that shocked me most when I started to speak to teachers was how much (or little) money they have as a budget each year. A head of department might have a generous £1000 (and often less) per year to spend on everything for all their classes, from photocopying to equipment. It’s difficult to see how schools developing new teaching with such budgets. When I started my examination years at high school I was in one of the first years to take the new Standard Grade exam (which are shortly to be phased out) and these were, in my opinion, great courses – essentially two years of doing experiments. It also seemed looking back that money was invested into these courses and that we had a lot of new equipment. As Scotland phases in a new high school curriculum this investment doesn’t seem to be there, and I worry how high school science (in particular) will be able to adapt.
Anyway, we always have a lot of fun with our workshops and it does make me think that in the long term we need to develop closer ties with our local schools, and this may mean offering more contact time with University teaching. Personally I’d look on this as a good thing, but logistically it may be difficult, and it may not be so desirable for school teachers, who enjoy the challenge of teaching these higher level courses. As budgets get tighter (as they are bound to do) it may that such closer ties become more politically expedient.
If you happen to be coming to the workshops as either a teacher or pupil please say hello and feel free to leave a comment below.