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The Blue Coat School, Liverpool, has taken part in the British Physics Olympiad for a number of years. Physics teacher, Keith Caulkin, discusses the papers in after-school workshops designed to develop his students’ problem solving skills in physics as well as train them for the competitions. Below is an account of the after-school workshop he runs for his GCSE students.
What I have found helpful and interesting for the students is to have a workshop after school for an hour. Usually there would be about thirty students attending as we enter roughly forty to fifty students each year. I give out a photocopy of a past multiple choice section and give them about twenty minutes to work through the questions in pairs, or threes. Then I ask different students for their answers and we discuss the correct answer and the reason for incorrect answers, as a class activity.
After these I give out photocopies of two long past questions and tell them to work through them in their small groups. After about twenty minutes I ask various groups to tell the class their answers and we discuss if they are correct, processing each part of the long question in this manner.
While they are trying to get the answers I am circulating, giving hints and seeing how they are doing. With about thirty students the buzz of talking Physics and debated ideas within the groups is quite amazing! They soon acquire a strong appetite for the questions and confidence is engendered!
I also distribute at the end my neatly written up solutions so that they can study and learn how to put each step of working in and how to lay out their own answers. With about three or four workshops during the weeks prior to the Challenge the skills of the students increase markedly in tackling the novel questions where they have to apply their physics’ principles in unusual situations.
Keith Caulkin, Blue Coat School, Liverpool