Channel: University of Cambridge - Department of Physics
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Website helps maths and physics school students work it out


School physics students and their teachers can now tackle an interactive library of problems designed to develop their physics and maths problem-solving skills, thanks to isaacphysics.org, the latest strand of  the Rutherford School Physics Partnership.

An open online course, isaacphysics.org challenges participants to solve a series of physics and maths problems, each tailored to the individual’s skills and experience. Questions are supported by hints and tips from Cambridge physics staff and undergraduates. Isaac is a bespoke tool for teachers and their students as they transition from GCSE (Y11) through to Sixth Form (Y12 & 13) and on to university.

Registered students will be able to record their performance, save their question gameboards, and develop a personal portfolio of completed boards tailored to their progress.

Registered participants will be able to watch lectures from the University’s Cavendish Laboratory, to participate in group problem-solving sessions in a Google+ hangout and, as the site develops, collaborate in teams to solve problems together.

The overall goal of the Rutherford School Physics Partnership is to show students what STEM at top universities is about and to make it more accessible to all, by supporting students as individual learners. Isaac introduces students to the different style of study they will need at university, engaging them in the intellectual challenge of university physics, maths and engineering.

“We want Isaac Physics to be particularly useful for students in schools that struggle to deliver specialist maths and physics teaching,” explains Professor Mark Warner, Co-Director of the Rutherford School Physics Partnership.

“Isaac Physics can be used as a stand-alone learning resource by students who want to improve their physics and maths skills, or by teachers looking to improve fluency and depth of understanding in their students.

“As the site develops, teachers will be able to set questions from the website for a whole class, and Isaac will mark the work and provide feedback to teachers and students.”

“Working in groups and analysing problems posed in words alone, through diagram sketching and the application of fundamental concepts, are skills that students need to develop in order to do well at university-level physics.  In addition, students also need to learn how to cope when they don’t get the answer right first, or even second, time.”

said Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright, Co-Director of the Rutherford School Physics Project.

“These questions will require thought, but are achievable, and students will gain in confidence and the questions will become easier with practice.  Students shouldn’t be put off if they need to use the hints to reach the answer.

“Even as professional physics researchers, we can find ourselves struggling to solve a problem, and getting it wrong at first. The challenge, and the satisfaction, comes from persevering, working the problem out, and getting it right in the end.”


New online resource will help schools and pupils build specialist maths and physics skills.

We want Isaac Physics to be particularly useful for students in schools that struggle to deliver specialist maths and physics teaching.
Professor Mark Warner, Co-Director of the Rutherford School Physics Partnership
More information:
  • The site can be found at: https://isaacphysics.org/
  • Around 80,000 students take AS and A2 physics. Around 100,000 achieve A*-B in GCSE physics and have the potential to go on to AS physics.
  • isaacphysics.org, and the Rutherford Schools Physics Partnership, aims to smooth the transition between these stages and to encourage students to continue studying physics, maths and engineeringat more advanced levels, by developing student skills and confidence.
  • For students: Questions have associated concept sheets, graded hints and hint videos. There are challenge questions, and themed sets of questions. If students register, then their progress will be followed, levels and problems will be suggested to them, they will be contacted about events open to them and about new materials being made available.
  • For teachers: in the next phase of the project, registered teachers will be able to follow the progress of students in their school, suggest selected problem sets to them and have them marked by Isaac, with results returned automatically.

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