Teaching the IB HL Physics course can lead you into a massive but false sense of security!

Being the best part of a month into the course, I am looking back at the few weeks I have had with the students and asking myself already … “Is it going well”.  In asking this, I do not mean am I having a good time?, or does everyone seem happy at the end of the lessons?  It is far more important than that.  PACE is the name of the game.  The big question is Am I setting the right pace? And this is a really tricky one.  Too fast and you will lose the students – they will not keep up and the danger will be that (1) any topics you study that require the knowledge you are presently imparting, will be much tougher and (2) when you start revision, they will not recall the material and it will be like they are doing it for the first time.

Try to remember that ‘any wasted lesson is one lesson less revision’.

New teachers must take care with this problem – I think that it is very tough to get the pace right, first time through.  How will you know if the pace is right until you see where you have messed it up?  If you get it right first time, then you were lucky (or you had good advice / support).

OK – the teaching order.  This is not crucial, and unlike many other parallel courses (e.g., A-levels), you can teach the IB course in more or less any way you like.  Mechanics however, is typically the main topic to start with.  The reasons are obvious – this knowledge fits into a picture the students will have of the reality around them, and the work supports almost all other areas of the course.  It is therefore conceptually straightforward and helpful throughout the 2 years – the gift that just keeps giving!  To be honest, in the IB more than most other courses, there is another advantage which most teachers do not consider – it has a huge number of experiments or investigations that can be used to start the practical training the students will need if they are to ultimately get good IA marks.

This year I am starting with … Thermal Physics!

But there is a reason for this moment of madness – I am ‘team-teaching’ the course for the first time.  In my school, we generally have a single group of HL and a single group of SL students in each of the two years.  This means we only ever need one teacher for HL and one for SL.  This is not a good thing for my department or the students.  If something happens to me (and I mean in the extreme sense!), like a tank rolls over me*, then obviously the first thing my department will consider if what they will do without their HL teacher.  As such, I need to train others – but with only one class it is not easy.  So this year, we have split the teaching time and split the course – my colleague is teaching Mechanics and I am doing Thermal.  This gives the students two different teachers.  For them, this has the advantages that they get the best of both of us, and offset some of our worse bits – if I do not teach something quite as good as I would hope, they can now ask me, or their other teacher.

There is a problem however – the IB Topics are not really the same size – especially if you put the additional core into the core topics (i.e., teach all the waves together, etc.).  This means that synchronising the topics so that they help each other (with knowledge) will be a challenge for us – but one I will no doubt report in in this Blog in the near future – hopefully to tell you that I have not messed it all up!

*Note: The idea of the anecdotal ‘bus’ running me over does NOT inspire me – if that happens, I would prefer a tank!

Image: http://neven1.typepad.com/blog/2010/06/the-alarmists-paradox.html