A level Required Practicals: 7 Most Frequently Asked Questions

Three years after the new A Level practical requirements were introduced, physics teachers have worked extremely hard to meet the CPAC criteria with every students and to be eternally “positive about practicals” whilst integrating them into our normal teaching schedules.

In general, the new system seems to be settling in quite smoothly. I personally believe that it encourages a more rounded physics education to the students. However, there are still some issues that are not quite clear.

Today, with the help of physics teacher Alom Shaha and educational charity Physics Partners  – I’m hoping to eliminate the uncertainty in A Level Physics Practicals by answering the 7 most frequently asked questions below:

They are super-specific to A Level Physics and I highly recommend you stick with me all the way to the bottom!

What version of the experiment should I teach??

I recently received this email:

The truth is that I agonised over this practical for a while. The reason I have produced a slightly different variation of this particular practical is that, quite simply, it produces better results. My reasoning is that the ‘take-away’ information for this practical would be concentrated around the handling and safety aspects of handling radiation.

Obviously understanding that Gamma radiation is a part of the EM spectrum and that is follows the inverse square is a key learning objective too. However, having tried the inverse-law experiment a few times, it produced terrible results! My thoughts on this are that the inverse square law is only effectively shown if the source is a point source. Most gamma sources will be directional.

So I would usually use the absorption coefficient experiment to get across the safety and handling elements of radiation. I would then use a lightbulb to prove the inverse square law and liken it to gamma radiation.

  • Maybe you are in the same situation??
  • Are you wondering if you are teaching “the correct” version of the required practicals?

Help is at hand!

Alom Shaha and educational charity Physics Partners (with editorial input from The Ogden Trust) have produced a series of physics CPD films to match all the A level required practicals. These were produced because it was felt that there was a gap in the online support available for physics teachers.

For me, these videos help clarify the message we are hoping to get across to our students. Most videos are supported by:

  1. Different methods of completing the experiment – iff appropriate (e.g. in calculating ‘g’ by freefall)
  2. Questions to ask your students
  3. CPAC matched criteria
  4. Downloadable student worksheets.

Let me show you an example (Let’s choose the Inverse Square Law experiment because it’s topical!)

OK OK – I know what you’re thinking!

Why is Sally telling us about really good free resources about the A Level Practicals when she sells them on Guzled too?Clever Blog Reader

The truth is that I think they are excellent and I’m ok with recommending other resources that I believe will help – even if it diverts from my own business.

If you’d like to explore all the videos available by Alom Shaha and educational charity Physics Partners (with editorial input from The Ogden Trust) click on the button below.

Watch MORE CPD Videos on A Level Required Practicals HERE

What are the basic requirements that need to be adhered to?

If the process goes smoothly, each student studying A Level Physics will have:

  1. Completed all “required” practicals. These practicals will be those recommended by your exam board and will have fit in with you order of teaching.
  2. The practicals will have been carried out under normal teaching conditions – not practiced or under exam conditions
  3. A lab book or folder (I personally prefer an A4 binder folder) with the record of their practical work in it.

The teacher will have:

  1. A record of which practicals have been carried out, on what dates and student attendance for these.
  2. A copy of any worksheets given will also be held.
  3. A record of which students met the criteria and who did not. A simple “yes” or “no” is fine to record. No further detail is required. However, more detailed feedback may be useful to the students.

Can teachers demonstrate the skills in the practicals before the students do them?

Yes, depending on the skills being assessed. If a teacher was, for example, demonstrating the correct use of a pipette, they would want to show the students how to do this. Demonstrations would not be appropriate if ‘following written instructions’ was being assessed, and they cannot be used as a substitute for doing practical work.

If you’d like more help about the use of demonstration  in the science classroom – I have two recommendations for you:

8 Questions to Ask During Classroom Demonstrations for Better Student Participation

I’m a big fan of a demonstration! Check out this one below…

You can see that it’s a crowd pleaser and allows you to be quite showmanlike in your delivery!

The students loved it, but I had to ensure they got the correct learning outcomes from the demonstration. I also wanted to direct my questioning to ensure that they participated appropriately.

So I came up with 8 questions that can be asked during every classroom demonstration for better student participation:
  1. What do you think will happen when …?
  2. Explain why you think …?
  3. Why is … happening?
  4. What do you see when …?
  5. Why did … happen?
  6. What evidence is there for …?
  7. What does the evidence tell us about …?
  8. What do you think would happen if …?

DEMO: The Movie

Alom and Jonathan also made a longer video essay about the use of demonstrations in the science classroom. Demo: The Movie has been particularly popular with PGCE course leaders for prompting discussion.

Why should teachers do more than 12 practicals?

Some techniques need more practise and you can provide increased opportunities for students to develop a mastery against the five CPAC areas. Some students may be absent when you deliver the core practical. Finally, practicals underpin teaching and learning, helping students to fully grasp the harder theoretical concepts – it should be embraced fully!

Can UV count as ionising radiation?

The required practical that students are expected to have completed is the use of gamma radiation. Schools will need to find ways to allow their students to complete this practical if they do not have a gamma source in school.

Could you do a circus of experiments?

That would be fine if you felt that was the best way of ensuring all practical work was covered. It does run the risk of divorcing the practical from the theory, and would be difficult to assess different competencies on each of the ‘stations’ without very careful planning.

Must students know how to read a vernier scale?

The Physics Apparatus and techniques list statement ATe states ‘digital or vernier scale’. It is clear that, for the endorsement, either digital or vernier is acceptable. For exam papers, students are expected to be able to use both types of scales and could assess understanding of both.

That’s it!

If you have any other questions about the A Level Physics Required Practicals – please do comment below.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end!

About the Author

Sally Weatherly

Sally is the Guzled founder and, more importantly, a physics teacher. She led a large and vibrant department for 7 years, after training to teach in London. She is an IB Physics textbook author, Fellow of the IoP, Entrepreneur, Advisor for the AQA, Trustee for Dynamic Earth and an IoP Teacher Network Co-ordinator.