Nuffield Physics 1962
Organisers: Eric Rogers and EJ Wenham
In the late 1950s the content of the physics curriculum and the methods used to teach it in secondary schools had barely changed since the 19th century. Physics in school bore little relation to the new developments in the world outside including nuclear fission and space exploration. Rote learning tended to mean that students understood little of what they had learnt. Students needed to experience science for themselves through practical work, rather than just reading about it.
Teachers recognised that something needed to be done, but the British government did not want to intervene directly.
The Nuffield Foundation created a team to do the job and provided funding which enabled them to build a team, develop materials with modern content and teaching approaches, and try them out in schools.
Modern content and teaching approaches
The Nuffield emphasis was on active thinking, experimentation and discussion for understanding.
Modern content included kinetic theory as a model of molecules in random motion, used in discussion of diffusion, viscosity, conduction, and molecular specific heats. Radioactivity was used as an example of speculative models of the nature of matter and energy.
Professional development for teachers
New styles of hands-on professional development for teachers were supported by the Inspectorate and local education authority advisers.
Assessment in the spirit of the course
New approaches to assessment in the spirit of the new course were developed in partnership with the examining boards.
The course was taken up by about 20% of British secondary schools and was also influential overseas.
Detailed instructions about how to carry out physics experiments live on in the Practical Physics website.
Resources included teachers’ guides, guides to experiments, and questions books. The Nuffield Foundation did not sponsor student books, but Longman Physics Topics were produced by the publishers working with project team members. The resources were revised in the 1970s, this time with student books.
Also on the web
Download from the STEM Centre website
See particularly Teachers’ guide 1 in which the Introduction and its appendices have information about the philosophy behind the Nuffield Physics course.
These are the student books which go with the Nuffield Physics first edition
See particularly the General introduction.
Entry in the King's College London archive