Physicopoeia

φυσικοποιΐα
THINGS I WISH I'D KNOWN WHEN I STARTED TEACHING PHYSICS

Recommendations

TEXTBOOKS
Confident predictions of the death of the traditional textbook have still failed to come to pass. Despite the popularity of the 'endorsed-by-[fill in name of exam board]', I've found that the more general textbooks are usually better for expanding your knowledge and checking facts. Older textbooks can be particularly good for this as well: you can find out about things that have dropped off the syllabus but which may:

a) provide ideas for extension work

or

b) the idea make a comeback when you least expect it (I've seen this happen more than once in my career).

 

Below are some of the more well-thumbed books on my shelf. Have a search on the second-hand pages of Amazon if you're interested in the older ones - you might strike lucky. In approximate order of age, starting with the newest:

 

1) Advanced Physics by Steve Adams and Jonathan Allday (1st Edition, 2000 but recently updated)

2) Advanced Level Physics by M Nelkon and P Parker (7th Edition, 1995, although earlier editions are also fascinating)

3) Essential Principles of Physics by Whelan and Hodgson (2nd Edition 1989). Intentionally produced as a 'bare bones' textbook which just had the facts and diagrams and left out explanations and contextual uses. Even in its day, it had more in it than was on most syllabuses, so it's an absolute gold mine for obscure knowledge but still written at a level which is accessible for able pupils or teachers.

4) Ordinary-Level Physics by A F Abbott (3rd Edition, 1977)
Lots which isn't on the normal school syllabus any more, but if you're looking for ideas of solid Physics to add to a course for, say, 11-14 year-olds, this would be a great place to start. Wonderful clear diagrams too.

 

WEBSITES
Google and Wikipedia are probably always going to be our first ports of call when we need an answer or explanation. When I can't find out what I want using one of those two, here's what I tend to use next:

1) Hyperphysics
Aimed more at undergraduate level but still accessible for most teachers and interested older pupils, this is a solid reliable source for quick explanations and equations. It's good for reminding you about things you might have studied years ago but forgotten about!

2) Animations and Simulations
These should never be used instead of the 'real thing', when it's available, but there are definitely times when a good simulation can really enhance a good practical or demonstration. Also, doing experiments on entire solar systems isn't terribly practical.

There are loads of these available on the web, but I keep returning to just a few sites for most of my needs:

a) PhET
A wide variety of clear and well-animated simulations, particularly useful for teaching younger pupils. Balloons and Static Electricity is great for teaching basic electostatics, John Travoltage usually gets a laugh, Electric Field Hockey can be very entertaining as a competition, the Motion ones are generally useful and My Solar System makes teaching orbits much more dynamic.

b) Walter Fendt's site
The animation quality isn't quite as fun as PhET, but what it loses there is gained in clarity. Contains what is still my favourite animations of a) a simple electric motor and b) an electromagnetic wave.

c) Paul Falstad's site
Much of this is aimed at undergraduate level, but there is still plenty that's great for school-level. The Ripple Tank is staggering in the number of things you can do with it besides the usual reflection, diffraction etc. (low-pass filter, anyone?). The Electric Fields applets are wonderful for helping pupils visualise fields.

d) Surendranath
Rather like Walter Fendt's site, this benefits from a very clear and simple layout. The transverse and longitudinal wave simulations are good for younger pupils, and I still haven't come across a more versatile simulation of single and double-slit diffraction.

 

STRETCH AND CHALLENGE
There are lots of resources out there to help you give those really able pupils a good challenge, but it can be difficult to know where to look. Here are some that I use:

 

  • Some books with good challenging questions (and answers!) in:

Thinking Physics by Lewis Epstein (2009)
Back of the Envelope Physics by Clifford Swartz (2003)
200 Puzzling Physics Problems by Gnadig, Honyek & Riley (2001)
Professor Povey's Perplexing Problems by Thomas Povey (2015)

Epstein's book in particular contains much that is entirely appropriate for much younger people.

Here's a list of suggested books to read in the year or so leading up to applying to University (or perhaps even earlier):