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HSC Physics

My name is Xiao Wu, I am the author of Physics In Focus (co-authored by Robert Far). The reason for me to write this introduction is to give you a brief run down of the features of the current HSC physics syllabus and the way the students should approach the study of physics in order to maximize their HSC examination marks. I would also like to introduce the ways the text book Physics In Focus should be used.

    • The syllabus structure

      The current stage 6 HSC physics syllabus is organised into modules. There are 3 core modules which all students will have to study:

      • * Module I - Space. This module examines the physics relating to the launching, orbiting and returning of spacecrafts and satellites. The issues of space traveling are discussed and the theory of special relativity is dealt within this context.
      • * Module II - Motors and generators. This module studies the motor effect and electromagnetic induction. Broadly speaking, it is a study of electromagnetism.
      • * Module III - From ideas to implementation. This is an interesting module because it focuses on the development of physics concepts into useful everyday applications, from cathode rays to cathode ray oscilloscopes and TV screens, from the photoelectric effect to solar cells, from semiconductors to microchips and microprocessors and from superconductors to maglev trains and supercomputers.

      There are 5 option modules, which students are to choose one to study (often the teacher chooses for the class).

      • * Geophysics
      • * Medical physics. The physics principles and designs of modern medical imaging modalities are described and analysed. These include ultrasound, plain X-rays, CT scans, endoscopies, nuclear medicine imaging and MRIs.
      • * Astrophysics. Astrophysics as its name suggests, is a collection of physics concepts relating to astronomy. The physics of telescopes, astronomical measurements of distance, spectrum and luminosity (magnitude) of the stars are discussed. Binary stars are studied as well as the evolution of various types of stars.
      • * From quanta to quarks. This module is effectively a study of atomic physics and quantum physics. The history of development of the model of the atom as well as the evolving understanding of the nucleus structure is studied in detail. Nuclear reactions are discussed and their applications are examined. Finally, the existence of fundamental particles, such as quarks, is discussed as a part of the 'standard model'.
      • * The age of silicon

      For logistic and economical reasons, we have only included the 3 most popular option modules in Physics In Focus, these are 'medical physics', 'astrophysics' and 'from quanta to quarks'.

    • The key features of the current physics syllabus


      Traditionally, the so-called ‘old school physics’ is taught in modules under the following headings: ‘waves’, ‘mechanics’, ‘electricity and electromagnetism’, ‘thermodynamics’, ‘light and optics’, ‘quantum physics’, and ‘modern physics’ (including the theory of relativity and others). The current NSW stage 6 syllabus approaches the subject of physics quite differently. The traditional headings have been abandoned, and the syllabus organizes the physics knowledge according a particular context. The context draws on the framework of society in all aspects of everyday life. For example, in the first module (Space), the concept of universal gravitation, projectile motion, Kepler’s laws of planetary motions, as well as special relativity, each belongs to a different module if the traditional headings were used, are brought together because they are all relevant for the launching and returning of spacecrafts and are essential for understanding the issues of space travels.

      Prescribed Focus Areas (PFAs)

      The second feature of the current physics syllabus is the introduction and incorporation of PFAs into the body of physics knowledge. The PFAs can be divided into five main areas

      1. History of physics.

      Knowing the history physics allows one to appreciate the trend of development as well as the advances in physics. Some examples include:

      • The historical development of rocket science and space exploration in the space module;
      • The discovery of electromagnetic induction by Michael Faraday in module II;
      • J. J. Thomson’s experiment to measure the charge to mass ratio of the cathode ray in module III.

      2. Nature and practice of physics

      Science often starts with a simple observation. A hypothesis is then made to explain this observation. The hypothesis is tested by conducting a controlled experiment. If experimental results support the hypothesis, then it becomes a theory. If the results of the experiment contradict the hypothesis, then it is modified for further testing or even completely rejected. The current syllabus is set to emphasize on this process of scientific thinking through many examples. The hypothesized aether model to explain the transmission of light was tested by an experiment conducted by Michelson and Morley in 1887. The lack of experimental evidence led to the rejection of the aether model and the alternative model was proposed by Einstein – the special relativity. On the other hand, the hypothesis of the existence of matter waves, in particular, electron waves was initially made by Louis de Broglie in 1924. The hypothesis was later validated by Davison and Germer, so it stood.

      3. The application physics.

      Studying physics without understanding its applications is absurd. The current physics syllabus integrates, whenever relevant, applications or utilities when learning about a particular physics principle. The study of loud-speakers after learning about the motor effect, and the study of induction cooking top as an everyday application of electromagnetic induction are just some of the examples. Furthermore, the entire module III links physics theories to their applications.

      4. Implication of physics on society and environment.

      Physics has had profound impacts on both the development of society as well as the environment we live in. The development of AC generators has had great impacts on both the society and the environment, so does the advances in nuclear technology.

      5. Current issues, research and developments in physics

      This is a difficult point to cover when I wrote the book. This PFA involves the study of contemporary physics and therefore often involves complicated concepts. Often, only a brief overview is given. Some examples include: the limitations of the current use of superconductors; the current research and development of the standard model as well as the discovery of the fundamental particles. Future uses of energy, such as those from controlled nuclear fusion reactions as well matter and anti-matter reactions have also been touched on.

    • Physics skills

      The third feature of the current syllabus is its emphasis on physics skills. This is reflected in two areas. First is practical tasks and second is information research (secondary sources).

      Every module contains a few practical tasks. They are aimed to allowed students to develop the following skills.

      • Planning the experiment
      • Conducting the experiment
      • Communicating the findings of the experiment
      • Critically analyses the results of the experiment, including relevant calculations, as well as assessing the validity, reliability and accuracy of the data. Safety assessments are also essential.
      • Working individually as well as in a team

      Not all investigations cover all of the above aspects. Some focus more on planning and conducting the experiment, whereas others emphasize more the data analysis and assessment of reliability and accuracy.

      Each module also contains a few research tasks. Although I have done a lot of these researches for the students and have included them in the book, students are still encouraged to carry out further research on the topic in order to expand their knowledge. Ultimately, it is the research skill the syllabus tries to develop. It is expected that students should be able to:

      • Use data bases, including those in the libraries and those on the internet.
      • Locate and filter information
      • Integration of researched information
      • Assess accuracy and reliable of the information obtained.
    • How to study year 12 physics and how to use the Physics In Focus Book?

      Knowing the nature of the current physics syllabus, the focus of the study becomes clear. Understanding of the physics knowledge is important, but it is more important to appreciate the context in which the knowledge falls into. Whenever a physics concept is studied, think about why this concept is learnt within the particular module. For example, circular motion is studied within the space module because it forms the basis for the orbital motion of satellites

      Obtaining a sound knowledge of the history of physics and impact of physics has on society and environment is also very important. I have tried to include all the history of physics and the impacts of physics on society and environment as required by the syllabus, which are further elaborated by the PFA sections of the book (highlighted with a purple background, and a special thanks to Robert for providing these sections). Pay particular attention to these sections! The application of physics should also be studied carefully. Students should understand that the history and impact of physics, as well as its applications are not there because they are interesting to read about, but they are an essential and important feature of the new syllabus, and hence for the HSC exams.

      Attention needs to be paid to the development of science skills. This includes both improving the research skills as well as the skills for performing first hand investigations. Although most of knowledge requiring research are included in the text book (under the green headings), students are required to perform their own research to further extend their knowledge. Although the extended knowledge may not be examined directly, the skill of obtaining the knowledge is what’s required. It is rather easy to tell (when marking exams) whether a student has actually conducted his or her own research.

      As for the first hand investigations, I encourage students to participate and get involved as much as possible. The best way to acquire the skills for conducting experiments is to do them. Read about the topic, plan the first investigation, do it and think about it! Should the experiment have more variables? Are there adequate controls? Could the design of the experiment be better? Also what are the potential errors in the experiment and what are the ways to improve the experiment? What are some of the identifiable hazards in the experiment and how should they be avoided.

      Lastly, I would like to emphasize that the studying of any science subject can be considered as a 4 steps process- reading, understanding, memorising and applying. Out of all, understanding is the most important one and is the step where the students need the help of a teacher the most. This should be done entirely within the class time and if you are a student of Science In Focus & IGI Learners, we do that through a 1.5 hours formal lesson each week. The class proactively teaches students all the physics concepts they need to know, clarify all the questions students may have. Of course, to go in line with the syllabus, I teach physics within the context of the modules and I often point out which sections are PFAs. For students who do not attend classes at Science in Focus Education, they are also encouraged to do the same within their normal class times.

      Memorising of the learnt knowledge and facts can be very dry and boring. Many students fail to complete this step therefore undo their hard work to initially learn about the subject. Memorizing of any facts can be made easier by making them more systematic and interesting; of course, repetition is also essential. During my lesson, I often help students with reading as well as teach them the methods of enhancing their memory. If I do not have time to do that, I often get that done through 1.5 hours of informal tutorial time where I also spend sometime going over difficult homework questions. I encourage all teachers to do the same if they have spare times in the class.

      The applying part comes after understanding and memorizing and can only be perfected by doing the exercise questions provided in the Physics In Focus book. This part is the responsibility of the students. No matter how good a teacher is and how well you have understood a particular concept, if you do not revise, you will forget! Students must spent at least 1 to 2 hours reading over the materials they have learnt during the week, reflect on them and spend a descent effort to memorize them. After that, they should do the exercise questions in the Physics In Focus book and check their answers. For those students who are excelling, they may choose to do extra questions. Interestingly, ‘the more questions you do, the better you get’ is a myth and can be quite dangerous! The aim of doing questions is to help with memorizing and promote the application of learnt knowledge. Random sheets of questions collected from various sources will have questions which are either too easy, or more commonly, too repetitive. These are completely useless! I encourage students to only do questions which have been thoroughly filtered by their teachers rather than wasting a lot of their doing useless questions. I would proudly state that in the Physics In Focus, the number of questions are just ‘enough’ to enhance learning and thinking.

      As a past HSC student, I understand HSC is highly stressful and time-pressing. Time management therefore becomes extremely important. For those students who attend classes at Science In Focus & IGI Learners, I estimate the time to study Physics to be 1.5 hours of formal lesson, 1.5 hours of tutorial, 1 hour of reading and memorizing, and 1 hour of home work. All together 5 hours of work per week. This comes down to less than 1 hour a day, which is more than manageable for most students. Finally, don’t forget to relieve your stress and resuming your extra-curriculum activities. If you play sports or music, DO NOT STOP! They can relax you and resolve stress. Furthermore, HSC is not just about study, it is about personal development. It builds your mentality, courage, time management and prioritization skills, and not surprisingly, developing your other talents is part of it. My goal is help students to complete this stage of personal development. My interest is more than just teaching physics, but also to teach you how to be a successful and all round individual!