Teaching in the 21 Century

I’ve been teaching for a long time now, longer than the probationer has been alive, but every year teachers get more and more tired and it isn’t because I’m too old. We’ve been back six days and already there has been tears from people with too much on their plate and too many students who need the teacher’s time if they are to do their best: time we don’t really have.

To the teachers who work hard all year, and often don’t have time to even go to the loo or eat dinner or grab a bite to eat I say…. this one is for you

To those who chose the school holiday dates I say…..

Please take careful note to monitor the sickness and stress rate of your staff. Teaching is not a 09:00-15:30 job!  You need to take care of the workforce and put their interest at heart.


I touch the future- I teach

As usual it is raining in my home town, so, as I wandered off home I got out the umbrella I was given at the Science on Stage Conference 2017 in Debrecan, Hungary. It was left over from the Science on Stage London 2015 event, where the weather was typically wonderful.

I can’t say that I was concentrating on where I was going as one of the quotes around the edge of the brolly was “I touch the future- I teach,” by Christa McCulliffe. For those that don’t know, she was the school teacher selected to be the first teacher in space and chosen for flight STS-51-L. This was the flight that never made it into space as it was the Challenger, that blew apart on January 28 1986, starting 73 seconds after lift-off. It was the 25th flight of the American Space Shuttle program, and disastrous final mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which lifted-off from Launch Complex 39-B, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission ended in catastrophic failure with the destruction of Challenger, and the death of all seven crew members.

I can’t begin to imagine the effect on this event on her family, friends and students she taught, and yet, in her short life she really had grasped something about the privilege of teaching. As teachers we really do have the chance to see students who will go on to have their own amazing lives, whether seemingly dull or interesting. Each student chooses their own future and makes their own life. Even getting through life for some is an achievement in itself.

Thanks Christa, that after all these years, you can still influence people and give renewed enthusiasm for the special job we do.


Real Role Models

I’ve got a slot again for the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday 21st August 2017 (loads of tickets still available). I am on a panel with Author Gill Arbuthnott  and Illustrator Neill Cameron. As part of our research preparation Gill and I met up in Blackwell’s Bookshop in Edinburgh. After a couple of coffees in Café Nero and a catch up we set off around the books to do some research. Nearly thirty years ago I did my teacher training course at Goldsmiths’ College London, we had several lectures on looking through the printed word and look for stereotypes, images and think of the subliminal messages these may deliver. So as part of our research we wandered the shop to find images in Science books.

Firstly what riled us, and continues to annoy, is that Science books are found in the most inspiring of categories (said with true irony)- REFERENCE! It doesn’t matter if the book is knowledge or a story, that is where it is dumped! Then we looked for images of people.

Gill Researching!

What became obvious was in the thirty years since my teacher training things haven’t moved on. There were virtually NO images of African Caribbean people in Science books. There were a few Asian images, and plenty of girls and women.

We found one image on the front of a nursing book.

Imagine if you were a black child in a class in school. How would you feel that this thing called Science applies to you if you never see any role models? How can we engage and make you people contribute and realise they have an important role to play? Steps are being made to address the gender gap in Science by creating opportunities for women. I say there is also a  requirement for us to engage the 3.5% of the UK population that have African-Caribbean roots.

I hope that I’ve not said anything un-PC. I find it hard to keep up, but I would like to get any opinions from this under-representative population of the UK. Hopefully we can get a few authors to write some popular books, particularly Science books where the hero is connected to this group of the population. Would anyone like to be the star?

So if that is you- stand up and tell us how we can inspire you!


Science on Stage- Debrecan, Hungary, Here I come!


28th June 2017

Now sitting at Schiphol Airport gate D71. It’s been a long slog. At 8pm last night, or thereabouts, I left the Celebration of Achievement after watching the 2016 Space Cadets give their presentation (well done to them). I’d not been home.  Waiting at the bus stop was Mr Physics for a belt up the road to “the daughter’s”. She was ready with drink, a Barbie, and a nice comfy bed. It was a rough night as I didn’t want to miss getting up. It took 4 goes on Listen again to hear “Radio 4s World Tonight”. I just got passed the news, nodded off and woke up at the end to try again. So up I got, showered said my goodbyes and made for the bus. The 77 was very quiet, but then it was 5:30 am. Tried to finally learn the difference between passed and past, and thought I’d got it with a score of 19/20, but alas! I also can’t find the website with the check list on either.

Luckily Glasgow Airport staff were delightful and helped me out despite me nearly falling asleep. A lovely young gentleman checked me through the self service check in, as it would appear I couldn’t stick my passport in the right way. Then through security one kind lady helped sort my liquids. I hadn’t clocked that one wee bag was maximum, I thought they had to go in small bag or bags. She rammed everything in and removed stuff that didn’t need to be bagged. I’d just grabbed it Tuesday morning. Then the third member of staff located my tablets (ICT not medicines). I’d totally forgotten them and misplaced my tray when trying to repack my bag. Needless to say, the tiny Boeing 737 could have fitted into my pocket, but was so comfortable I fell asleep just about. I must finally be getting the hang of this flying lark! Now hiding in the corner trying to avoid anymore events. At least I’ve not accidentally caught the flight to Malaga which has been moved to our gate.

Original Post

I’ve known about this for what seems like ages, but I am not sure how long, things have all blended into one these days as there is so much to do at school.

Today I spent some time looking over the programme and I am now getting quite excited. My poster has been finished and is off for preparation, but I must contact D&S Packaging about a car box for my luggage.

I am taking our Road Safety Campaign to Europe, before they refuse to let us in! I am not sure if I ought to have reflected all the photos so they work for those who drive on the right!

I met some of the people going at the ASE Conference in Reading and I think we’ll get on well together. Unfortunately the family don’t feel there is enough to do in Debrecan to join me- a shame as the whole family could have made those dates.

I’ll keep you posted as the time creeps up and then lands in an overwhelming dollop on top of me and I panic that I haven’t got everything done!



Quotes for Students

There is a debate on Sputnik, the Scottish Physics teachers’ Forum, about displaying good quotes around the Physics Department. Since starting this website I have looked at several quotes and I think some of the quotes of Carl Sagan are fantastic.

My favourite to inspire all students is

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
― Carl Sagan.

but closely followed behind it is the following little gem.

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” ― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

I would love to have included the poem by Dorothy Law Nolte “Children Learn What They Live” and I have permission to upload it here, but it must be password protected and I’d need to take it down after 4 years and pay again. I’m afraid that much as I believe people should get full rights for writing and holding the copyright, but budget won’t sustain that, so I suggest you check it out for yourself. It is online in loads of places.

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

Albert Einstein

and here are a couple of worryingly true quotes that seem to be even more pronounced in the UK with the latest education system.

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. Carl Sagan

I think we are a long was from a society that embraces innovation.

Once you have an innovation culture, even those who are not scientists or engineers – poets, actors, journalists – they, as communities, embrace the meaning of what it is to be scientifically literate. They embrace the concept of an innovation culture. They vote in ways that promote it. They don’t fight science and they don’t fight technology. -Neil deGrasse Tyson


I remember that this made an impression on me at school but I didn’t even know it was one of Einstein’s. I wonder if it was. I suspect it was a culmination of several people’s work.

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.

One more on the benefits of getting educated and wisdom.

You’re blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom,
    when you make friends with Madame Insight.
She’s worth far more than money in the bank;
    her friendship is better than a big salary.
Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth;
    nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her.
With one hand she gives long life,
    with the other she confers recognition.
Her manner is beautiful,
    her life wonderfully complete.
She’s the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her.
    Hold her tight—and be blessed!- Proverbs 3 The Message

So I wanted to think of a quote for myself, to sum up everything, but I am just not that clever!


Oh I hope this isn’t me

I received a letter in the post from a former pupil, now a happily married Dr with two lovely children. She offered me this poem- failing to tell me it actually wasn’t about me. I had quite a wobble when I read it and genuinely hope my students don’t come and sit through my lessons like this, and anyway I’m only on the second floor now.

Ode to Double Physics

Crawled upstairs to the third floor.

Teacher greets us at the door.

Why does this feel such a chore,

When it’s the subject I most adore?

Take jackets off, shove chewing gum in,

Two minutes later “put that in the bin!”

Teacher roars “Oh what a din”

Right now I need a good stiff gin.

Outputs? Inputs? Analogue Device?

Can’t this be a tad more concise?

Turn to Gem, need advice,

All I get is “Russell’s nice”.

Potential energy of a rock.

Glance again at that damn clock.

That clever voice I try to block.

When will this pain ever stop?

Pack up time is here at last.

I’m so glad that’s in the past.

Then I realise, just as fast,

I’ve got to suffer one more class.

By Eileen MacEwen

Oh dear, I really hope this wasn’t about me, although logic gates can be rather boring. No wonder they’re only on National 4 now.

The photo of Eileen’s school report was written by her Chemistry Teacher Mr Dave Pound, who is sorely missed and was a real legend. The report was the “alternative” and not the one that went home stuck on the sheet.


Oh what embarrassment, but no one reads this anyway!

In the certain knowledge that I am the only one reading my blog, and I’m not surprised. I feel I can quite simply put these links up.

What an honour to be recognised as a good Physics teacher. If any of you knew how poorly qualified I have felt over the years, and continue to feel, and if you knew how I have battled and continued to battle with my understanding of this amazing subject I think you would all see the irony in it.

I have managed to love this subject so much because of the amazing support and kind and thoughtful explanations from the Physics community in Scotland, whether teachers, lecturers, SSERC members, SQA developers or just interested students.
I think there is a lot wrong with Scottish Education at the moment,  but one thing that is totally right is the support that the IoP and Scottish Teachers give to each other. The subject is in a much better place because of it.

I am of an age now that the teachers that I started working with are retiring or even worse no longer with us. I will forever admire Kevin Bailey from Wallace Hall who was such a selfless and skilled teacher and also Frank Callaghan, who after 10 years of close friendship I still knew so little about.

Thank you to all the Physics community in Scotland; the award is really about you and for you. I just get to keep it on my mantlepiece.

IoP Teacher Awards

Boy did I really send such a silly interview to Sally? Sorry. You can judge for yourself, and thanks to Uncle Eric for the tip on Rocket scientists!

2016 IoP Teacher of Physics Award Winner

Apollo 13- re-enactment

What fun! I am so pleased to be able to run a skills course. I am teaching Physics through the medium of Modern Foreign Languages and communication. We have just watched some of Apollo 13.

While the lunar module had enough spare oxygen to accommodate Swigert as well as the intended lunar module crew of Lovell and Haise, carbon dioxide was beginning to build up. Normally lithium hydroxide (LiOH) canisters absorbed the gas from the air and prevented it from reaching dangerous levels, but the canisters on-board the Aquarius were being overwhelmed. The Odyssey had more than enough spare LiOH canisters on-board, but these canisters were square and couldn’t fit into the holes intended for the lunar modules’ round canisters.

Mission control needed a way to put a square peg into a round hole. Fortunately, as with the lunar module activation sequence, somebody was ahead of the game.

Ed Smylie, one of the engineers who developed and tested life support systems for NASA, had recognized that carbon dioxide was going to be a problem as soon as he heard the lunar module was being pressed into service after the explosion.

For two days straight since then, his team had worked on how to jury-rig the Odyssey’s canisters to the Aquarius’s life support system. Now, using materials known to be available on-board the spacecraft–a sock, a plastic bag, the cover of a flight manual, lots of duct tape, and so on–the crew assembled Smylie’s strange contraption and taped it into place. Carbon dioxide levels immediately began to fall into the safe range. Mission control had served up another miracle.


I have 20 students across two rooms. The only means of communication is through Edmodo messenger. One group have a model in front of them, the other are having to build the model from instructions given over the internet.

The frustration on both sides is evident. Caps com has changed hands several times as different people type and give the orders (flight director). I am desperate to go and see what is happening downstairs. I’ve used the phone twice, once to check the students were logged on (a massive delay between switching on and getting logged on). The instructions given weren’t always as clear as caps com thought. The second time was to tell them time was up and to bring up the models to compare.


Just couldn’t wait to see the models, and by all accounts both teams did a brilliant job. I must find another course to fit this into. It is excellent for showing communication, frustration, team work, and all manner of other soft skills.

IMG_20160830_125625420  IMG_20160830_125604868_HDR

And the winning team was….



Well done to you all. I had fun, I hope you did too, and I learned so much!