The Physics Foundations project will develop a world leading scheme of work for Key Stage 3 which draws on research in conceptual change to ensure that students have a deep understanding of physics before they begin Key Stage 4.  Teachers will be upskilled through both developing and delivering this scheme, which is freely available on this site.

Background and Focus

The 2014 Science Programme of Study aims at “building up a body of key foundational knowledge and concepts” (DfE, 2013: p2). Yet with state schools having only 19% of the physics teachers needed (IOP, 2010) the development of conceptual understanding is a significant challenge.  Since the 1980s, a growing body of research into ‘conceptual change’ in physics has explored how pupils learn concepts and identified the specific difficulties pupils have, as well as the ineffectiveness of many instructional approaches in overcoming these (Brown & Hammer, 2008).  In the USA, teachers have drawn on conceptual change research in designed sequences of lessons which enable accelerated learning.

This project will engage teachers in applying conceptual change research in physics to the development of a scheme of work which will exceed the expectations of the 2014 curriculum for Key Stage 3.  In doing so it will enhance not just teacher subject knowledge but also pedagogic knowledge around the foundation of physics concepts which will allow pupils to excel.  Furthermore, it will provide a research-informed scheme of work which will then be rigorously tested and made freely available, so that all teachers can engage pupils in a deep conceptual understanding of physics.

Anticipated Outcomes

  1. Teacher subject knowledge will be enhanced through school-based study groups which will meet weekly to analyse and then apply conceptual change research around one of the 6 topics within KS3 physics.  The groups will be supported by visits from physics pedagogy experts from CCCU and remote support from physicists at Imperial College London.  Measurable outcomes will be an increase in teacher conceptual knowledge (assessed through pre and post-testing) as well as the production of schemes of work that include lesson plans, resources and teachers’ guidance, in which conceptual change research is embedded (these will be evaluated and then subjected to a randomised control trial).
    Pupils’ attainment in physics (using standardised tests) in the group trialling the schemes of work will show a statistically significant improvement compared with those in the control group.  Furthermore, the scheme will be positively evaluated by pupils and teachers and taken up by schools for future use.
    The wider school system will benefit from the availability of a research-informed and conceptually deep scheme of work for KS3 Physics which is fully resourced and accompanied by teachers’ notes.  Through teaching the scheme teachers will develop their own conceptual and pedagogical understanding of physics. 

Existing Evidence

Duit (2009) catalogues over 8000 articles on conceptual change in science, including substantial research on specific aspects of the 2014 KS3 physics curriculum.  For example around light (Anderson & Smith, 1983), matter (Babai & Amsterdamer, 2008) and electricity (Clement & Steinberg, 2002), as well as teachers’ concepts in these areas (Küçüközer & Demirci, 2008).  Furthermore there is strong evidence around the application of different teaching strategies (Scott, Asoka & Driver, 1991; Smith, Blakeslee & Anderson, 1993). A pertinent example is Gautreau & Novemsky’s (1997) findings that after an initial period spent focusing on conceptual ideas in physics rather than quantitative problem solving, their class performed substantially better than comparison classes on such problems. The development of a scheme of work through group study follows a Japanese ‘lesson study’ approach which has been shown to be effective in developing pedagogical understanding (NCSL, 2005).


Anderson, C. & Smith, E. (1983) Children's conceptions of light and color: Understanding the concept of unseen rays. East Lansing: Michigan State University.

Babai, R. & Amsterdamer, A. (2008) 'The Persistence of solid and liquid naïve conceptions: A reaction time study, Journal of Science Education and Technology, 17 (6), pp. 553-559.

Brown, D. E., & Hammer, D. (2008). Conceptual change in physics. In S. Vosniadou (Ed.), International Handbook of Research on Conceptual Change. New York:  Routledge.  (pp. 127-154)

Clement, J. J., & Steinberg, M. S. (2002). Step-Wise Evolution of Mental Models of Electric Circuits: A "Learning-Aloud" Case Study. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 11(4), 389-452.

DfE (2013) National Curriculum in England: science programme of study – key stage 3.

Duit, R. (2009), Bibliography: Students’ and teachers’ conceptions in science education. Kiel, Germany: IPN.  Available at [accessed 10th Nov 2013]
Gautreau, R., & Novemsky, L (1997) Concepts first: A small group approach to physics learning.  American journal of Physics, 65, 418-418

IOP: Institute of Physics (2010). Physics and: teacher numbers – An Institute of Physics Briefing note.  Available at [accessed 10th Nov 2013]

Küçüközer, H., & Demirci, N. (2008). Pre-Service and In-Service Physics Teachers' Ideas about Simple Electric Circuits. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 4(3), 303-311.

National College of School Leadership, (2005). Networked Research Lesson Study in practice, Cranfield: CfBT.

Scott, P., Asoko, H. and Driver, R. (1991) 'Teaching for conceptual change: A review of strategies', in R. Duit, F. Goldberg and H. Niedderer, Research in Physics Learning: Theoretical issues and empirical studies. Germany: University of Kiel, pp. 310-329.

Smith, E., Blakeslee, T. & Anderson, C. (1993) 'Teaching Strategies Associated with Conceptual Change Learning', Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 30 (2), pp. 111-26.