Rugby 2014

Accessing and using evidence to optimise the teaching of physics

Charles Tracy, Head of pre-19 Education, Institute of Physics


PIPER (practical implications of physics education research) is a project from the IOP Education Department devoted to promoting evidence-based practice in physics education.

The Supporting Physics Teaching (SPT) materials, provides extensive support for physics teachers, draws on both research and on the classroom wisdom of practitioners.

PIPER will provide the next steps in engaging teachers, teacher trainers and CPD providers directly with this evidence as they refine and justify their practice. It will provide access to ideas from research and researchers.

In the first phase of the project, teams of education researchers based at Canterbury Christ Church University and King’s College London analysed existing research about how to teach the topics of light and EMF respectively. The resulting monographs explore the messages which practitioners might draw from this literature:

Read the PIPER: Light monograph (Mark Hardman & John-Paul Riordan, CCCU) (PDF, 1.1 MB)

Read the PIPER: EMF monograph (Professor Justin Dillon & Dr Anne Bowker, KCL) (PDF, 525 KB)

Please note that these documents are subject to the IOP copyright statement.

Following this phase they have broadened their focus. Rather than concentrating exclusively on research they are considering the ways in which they can codify and disseminate messages from the many sources which teachers can access to inform their practice.

They anticipate a full launch of the project in this year (2014).

For further details please email

Why is PIPER needed?

To answer the question, what does it mean to be a better teacher of physics teacher?

To encourage reflective practice;

A place for teachers to go to help them make decisions;

Dissemination of information to as wide an audience as possible;

Encourage discussions.

Types of research and evidence

International studies;

National studies;

Data analysis;


Public consultation;

Psychology and psycho-physics;

Learned contemplations;

Action research;

Piloted projects;

Good practice.

What can be evidence?

Education structures;


Teaching and learning techniques;

The way that children learn;

Children’s vies and conceptualisation;



Teaching sequences

Context – What is the desired outcome?

To be better at developing concepts in a meaningful way;

Achieving exam success;

Increasing knowledge of careers;

Broadly educating the citizenry;

Making physics enjoyable:

Increasing uptake of A level physics;

Being equitable;

Possible output measurements

Specific knowledge and understanding by test;

Exam success;

Attitudes, choices and behaviour (progression rates);

Conceptualisation (naïve to cultured);

Enjoyment and progression

The medical analogy

Blind trials;

What is the condition?

There may not be any sign that anything is wrong;

What would the cure look like?

What is the role of the practitioner?

Time needs to be invested;

PIPER – the first version

Identification of topics and questions;

Assemble research to determine what exists and what counts;

Categorise; filter; translate; disseminate; feedback;

First output in 2013

Future outputs must be clearly tailored for the audience;

Call for clear, concise messages which teachers can absorb;

More prescriptive guidance on research endorsed;

More structured and systematic

Hard messages

There are no easy answers from research;

Research rarely gives explicit messages about effective practice;

Outputs limited by the available research – particularly recent research;

Lack of contextually relevant research;

Hard for people outside of the research community to evaluate validity of evidence;

Very few researchers who could do the work;

Unlikely that PIPER could deliver a complete guide to research – based teaching which practitioners appear to desire

Tension in that teachers are interested in knowing “the best way” of teaching

Physics architecture

Phase 1 – personalised maps;

Phase 2 – General structure;

Possible next step

Produce easily implementable suggestions for practice

CPD/professional accreditation

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