Sunday, 7 April 2013

Energy in the 2015 National Curriculum

If you are thinking about responding to the proposed change to the national curriculum, I can give you a good reason to do it: the energy section of the physics key stage 3 curriculum is far more confusing than it needs to be.

The energy section of the 2015 proposed national curriculum looks like:

In the 1999 national curriculum energy looks like this:


In 2008 the national curriculum was condensed (a lot)

I think that the "changes and transfers" section from the 2015 curriculum means the same as the 3.1a statements from the 2008 curriculum. And that the long description is there because the person/people who wrote it want the students to experience the changes first hand? 

The next section about energy and fuel seems to suggest activities, but the word "calculations" makes me wonder what the person who wrote this was thinking. Already in the biology section students are expected to carry out calculations to work out a daily diet, is this another example of duplication, like in the case of particles between chemistry and physics? And for electrical appliances, does this statement imply that we have to calculate electricity bills like many GCSEs specifications might expect?

I am also not happy with the idea of introducing the kW. Particularly when power is not mentioned in the curriculum. I am aware the Year 9 QCA unit on energy and electricity had a lesson that involved power. I didn't teach it to many classes as they needed more time on the things that were in the national curriculum. So I would suspect that teaching energy is enough for key stage 3.

I do think that if the idea was to increase the difficulty then efficiency would have been a better concept to chose to make more explicit in the national curriculum than sliding power in to it.

The "auditing change" section is also confusing. I assume that it doesn't mean students should use E=1/2kx^2 or E=mcT etc, but that students should use the principle of conservation of energy qualitatively.

It is a big pity that energy resources are missing from the 2015 national curriculum at key stage 3. There is a sentence in the key stage 4 curriculum: "national and global fuel resources, renewable energy sources". I think that this is too big a topic to go into cold, students will have to have heard of the difference energy resources in order to be able to analyse them in a national context.

The 2015 key stage 3 energy statements have to be taken into context with the key stage 4 statements on energy. I don't think that the key stage 4 statements represent much of a change, except adding electrical energy = voltage x charge (but I introduce the ground work for this in year 9 energy and electricity unit, so it wouldn't be a big leap). And of course the conceptual idea that energy transfers tend to reduce the difference that caused them to reach equilibrium.

It is interesting that thermal insulation is mentioned in the key stage 4 2015 curriculum, but heat transfer is not mentioned explicitly in either. I like teaching conduction and convection as it gives a context for the particle model. I can hear the students saying "why do I need to learn this?" about conduction and convection, so perhaps it isn't such a terrible thing to lose, but I would rather it was in either key stage 3 or 4. (Although infra-red radiation is mentioned in the waves section of the curriculum).

Energy is fundamental to the understanding of physics and is one of the most important things to get right. I think that the DfE does need to look again at this section of the curriculum even if it changes nothing else.

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