Physics in the field

8 May 2018

Ogden Consultant, Helen Pollard has been working with Dan Riley at White Hall Outdoor Education Centre and five schools in the High Peak, Derbyshire, to trial an outdoor physics initiative in an effort to increase students’ science capital. The project aimed to demystify abstract physics concepts such as forces, energy and waves by applying them to real-life activities. Nineteen Year 9 students spent two days at White Hall Activity Centre in Derbyshire and participated in an industrial visit to see physics in action in the work place.

At White Hall, the students took part in a series of cycling challenges. Divided into groups, each was investigating a physics concept, including distance, time, speed, friction, pressure and mass. As they took turns to complete the mountain bike trail, the students measured factors affecting performance, including tyre tread and pressure, the most efficient cycling position and the most effective brakes and suspension. Each group then presented their findings to the other students.

“Using Outdoor Education as a means to inspire children about science can only be a good thing. Initial feedback from the pilot shows that the programme has been well received both by the participating children and the employers, who hosted the work place visits. We look forwards to running further pilots in the near future.”
Dan Riley, Programme Leader, White Hall Centre

During bushcraft activities, team-work and problem-solving skills were required but students also had to engage their scientific and engineering knowledge – they mastered the art of fire starting and made a suitable holder for boiling water, before considering the physics of energy and temperature behind these activities.

Climbing and canoeing also provided practical engagement with more abstract concepts. The students investigated the effects of friction between climbing shoes and the climbing wall, and then studied the effects of stretching three different types of rope, taking measurements, processing the data and presenting their findings. Whilst canoeing, the students measured the frequency and wavelength of water waves, in order to determine their velocity.

“This project helped to hone generic skills such as team work, problem-solving, presentation skills, and resilience,” explains Helen. “But it also provided a really interesting context for explicit physics education in a stimulating outdoor environment. The industrial visit to Avanti Conveyors, who also sponsored the initiative, gave a fantastic insight into how STEM knowledge and skills can be used in the workplace.” Buxton Water and Costain also supported the project enabling students to learn more about local industry and to meet professionals who use their scientific knowledge in the workplace.

Tim Williams, head of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at New Mills Secondary School believes the experience has been positive for all involved: “The children really benefitted from being able to visualise and experience scientific principles in a fun and interesting way, and the industrial site visit gave it all context as to what can be done with science. The whole experience has really stuck with them.” 

Participating students will present their findings and share their experience with teachers, parents, and representatives from the sponsors: Avanti Conveyers, Buxton Water and Costain.

“Increasing children’s awareness of the career opportunities that exist through science and engineering is really important for our future. This pilot scheme brilliantly combines a fun and interactive way of learning science outside the classroom whilst opening children’s eyes to career options through science.”
John Howie, Managing Estimator, Costain


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