This website, The Physics Teacher, is the creation of Rachael Hawkins. Who am I and why did I do this?
I don’t come from a family of teachers or scientists. At the age of 11 when I announced to my father that I would be an astrophysicist, he laughed at me. Coming from a family where no one had ever even gone to university astrophysics was quite an ambition. My interest didn’t diminish as I took my GCSEs and A Levels. I was clever and did well in my exams, the possibility of being able to achieve my ambition became real.
I studied physics at Imperial College graduating with a first class honours MSci in Physics. It was great to be surrounded day in day out by other people just as interested in my chosen subject. For the first time in my life I felt I was in the right place. I then did a PhD at Queen Mary, University of London in Cosmology. During my PhD I had several opportunities to help undergraduates and sixth formers in workshops and realised how much I enjoyed this. I set up a website back in 1999 and started writing about topics that interested me and explaining my research. In 2001 I was a finalist in the BASF Young Science Writers’ Competition.
Meanwhile disillusionment with academic life set in. There were so few women at higher levels in my subject, I could count them on one hand. I was left alone in an office for 4 out of every 5 days with almost no one to talk to or interact with. It became clear that the level of myopic devotion to churning out research paper necessary to be a “success” was simply not a lifestyle I wanted. No one had a house, a mortgage, a partner or kids, One postdoc in my department even took it as far as working in the lab on Christmas Day. This all led to a radical rethink of my career and I trained as a teacher instead of pursuing a career as a research scientist.
I worked as a physics teacher for 13 years in Surrey and Oxfordshire and spent a couple of years as a Teaching and Learning Coach as part of the Stimulating Physics Network run by the Institute of Physics. This gave me the opportunity to work with 12 schools in Oxfordshire with a desperate shortage of physics teachers, training the staff, developing their curriculum, creating schemes of work and teaching model lessons to the students.
Working with the IOP showed how hard it is for physics to be taught well in schools in the UK at the moment as so few physics and engineering graduates go into teaching. Teachers with degrees in chemistry and biology struggle with their knowledge of physics and unfamiliarity with the apparatus and experiments which bring it to life. Unsurprisingly students then find the lessons difficult to follow and uninspiring. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Drawing on all my years of teaching experience, expertise in the subject and in depth knowledge of pedagogy from working with the IOP I have created The Physics Teacher website for you to use. I have hundreds of teaching resources and materials, ideas, tips and hard won knowledge about how best to teach this fascinating subject and I’m going to share them with you.