Thoughts on the Physics Bit (part 1) Y 1 & 2

Now onto physics and in Y1 that amounts to just one section on Light. It starts off with a set of reasonable and fairly familiar statements on identifying light sources, comparing light sources and how darkness is the absence of light. We then move on to ‘describe the features of day and night, including changes in light and temperature.’ In many ways this is fine and is often done in KS1 but the changes in light and temperature will have to be described qualitatively so it really just comes down to the children saying it’s a bit darker and colder at night than in the day. There is no direct hands-on practical work you can do for this section without bringing the class back after hours. So if a child says to you ‘I think it was warmer last night than it is today’, what are you going to do about it? You can’t say ‘Let’s go and find out shall we?’, because you can’t compare night and day at the same time. It would be possible to rig up a data-logger to record the temperature at two different times and later on, in KS 2, this would be a good way to go but not for Y1s. They would need to do a lot of work on temperature before this will have any real meaning for them. Once again we are back to the inevitable response ‘Well, it is colder at night because I say so.’

The next line states ‘Pupils should be taught to describe the movement of the Sun across the sky during the day’. Oh dear. There it is in black and white in the National Curriculum – a line that is incorrect science. In the old orders at least this became the ‘apparent movement of the Sun across the sky’ which at least gave the nod to the turning world being the cause of the Sun’s passage through the day. But here it is and if it stays in we will be doing a great job of building misconceptions for the future. Eat your heart out Copernicus. Over 500 years after you postulated that the Sun was at the centre of our solar system, we have still got in wrong in our school curriculum.  In the old orders, the section on shadow sticks and the turning Earth was deliberately left until KS 2 because of the counter-intuitive nature of the explanation. In fairness, the Notes and Guidance say that at this stage pupils should not be expected to learn that day and night are caused by the Earth rotating on its axis, but it also encourages you to get the children observing and measuring the position of the Sun at different times of the day through the year and doing the good old shadow stick investigation. Once again, any child with half an ounce of curiosity left in them will see the changes and ask ‘How come?’ I defy any teacher to reply to that in a way that does not mention a turning Earth but that does not lead to incorrect ideas being planted in our children’s minds. It is a really difficult idea to get straight in your head – that  this solid old bit of ground that you are standing on is actually turning at a speed of over 1000 mph and the Sun that is going across the sky is actually staying in the same place (relative to the Earth anyway). It really is best left until later.

In Y2, the Physics section is early work on forces. This part has one sentence – ‘Pupils should be taught to describe how things move at different speeds, speed up and slow down, using simple comparisons, comparative vocabulary and superlative vocabulary.’ There are some pretty straightforward ideas suggested in the Notes and Guidance and plenty of things that will look familiar to teachers and with links to toys and transport. Interestingly, on the work on Forces, there is no mention of the underlying importance of pushes and pulls. The Notes and Guidance suggest that you discuss what makes things slow down and speed up in terms of brakes on a bike or pushing on a scooter.  In other words children will be encouraged to spot what is causing things to change speed (e.g. brakes) but not the underlying vital bit that all these things are pushes and/or pulls. This comes in at Y3 where the section on Forces is substantial and covers a lot of ground. It seems to me that the Y1 and Y2 work in Physics would be better swapped around. The simple demands of the forces work – just describing – would be better suited to Y1. And the work on Light, with its extra demands would be better in Y2.

 In total, up to this point in the blog, I have written nearly 8000 words listing my concerns. Two sections to go. What are the chances of hitting the 10,000 by the time I’ve finished?






About annegoldsworthy

Primary Science specialist. Going for more independent thinking and less being told what to think. And that goes for teachers as well as children. We need to change that draft curriculum for science. Follow me on twitter @afgoldsworthy
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