Physics Head of Department:

Dr. Mary Singleton    

Subject Aims:

To develop in the students an appreciation for the world around them and an understanding of the physical laws upon which the world works.   To develop in the students an appreciation for the scientific method and a logical analytical thought process.   To foster an interest in physics and encourage independent self-directed learning through exposure to the ideas and principles of a range of physics topics.      

Subject Objectives:

To develop the understanding of the students on a range of topics in physics and deepen their appreciation of the subject.   To develop their skills at practical work and encourage team work and joint problem solving. To expose the students to the breadth of the subject by study of both classical and modern physics.   To prepare the students for the leaving certificate examination, predominantly at higher level.    

Subject Organisation:  

The subject is taught as part of general science in forms 1 ' 3 and as a separate subject in forms IV ' VI. In form IV the allocation is one double and two single periods per week throughout the year. In forms V and VI this is increased to one double and three single periods per week. In Form V and VI the double class is given over predominantly to experimental work and class tests, the single classes being more theory oriented.  

Grouping of Pupils (Mixed ability, Streaming):  

The students are taught in mixed ability groups and initially all follow the higher level syllabus for leaving certificate. Generally all will sit the higher level paper, and when necessary a small no. are directed towards ordinary level towards the second half of form VI. In the past this system has been found to work well, with those opting for ordinary level achieving A grades in the final exam.  

Effective Teaching Methodologies: 

Throughout all years and levels teaching is by a combination of lecture, discussion, questioning and experimentation. The textbook is used primarily as a source of prep questions and as a revision tool for tests. Indeed in form IV the textbook is used infrequently. Detailed notes are presented on the main topics with powerpoint presentations being used to emphasise key points and concepts. Where appropriate video clips and applets are built into the lesson.

The emphasis is always on physics as an experimental science and the pupils carry out experimental work in all topic areas. The aim is to link practical work with recent theory classes.

Independent research is encouraged, particularly in form IV when there is somewhat more time to pursue tangential areas that may emerge. The students are encouraged to consider topical areas of physics and arrive at informed opinions.

Questioning is built into all classes in order to test understanding of the material and to encourage development of logic.

Prep is set after each class, of varying nature but always linked to the topic under discussion. This is then discussed and clarified at the start of next class. Wherever possible reference is made to the application of the science to the society in which we live.  

Range/Variety of Resources:  

A growing bank of resources, question papers, solutions, notes etc is being built up together with relevant textbooks, videos etc. Advanced texts are available in some topics and pupils are allowed access to these when they develop an interest in a particular area. There is a wide range of practical demonstration material and experimental kit available and incorporated when appropriate.

Availability/Use of ICT Facilities:  

Powerpoint presentations are used extensively in presenting course material. Datalogging is used for some experimental work (eg Boyle's law) but not extensively as it is felt that the process of graphing and physical measurement itself are important skills which can be lost in this process.

Where appropriate students are referred to web sites and relevant material is linked into the presentation. The Science department has its own web site which contains some course notes, summaries and exam papers.  

Provision for Health and Safety Requirements:  

At the start of each year the students are talked through the safety regulations for the lab and sign that they have read and agreed. Before each experiment a safety audit is taken informally and students' attention is drawn to any potential hazards. In the case of electrical circuits there is a strict rule that the circuit is checked by the teacher before the last connection is made. All unnecessary books etc are removed from benches before practical work starts, hair is tied back, goggles are worn where appropriate and behaviour is orderly and tranquil. All procedures are clearly discussed prior to experimentation.  

Prep/Homework Procedures:

Preps are set after each class and corrected at the start of next class. The majority of preps consist of mathematical type questions based on the textbook, though research preps are also set (particularly in form IV when time constraints are not as pressing). Learning preps are used when necessary, and often followed up by a written assessment in subsequent classes.A class test follows each topic, in the case of forms V and VI based on past leaving certificate questions for the appropriate topics. Experimental write ups follow as prep from each lab class and these are taken in and graded each week. Other written work is taken in several times a week though it is sometimes found more appropriate to go through questions on the board with the students correcting their own work  

Assessments/Examinations Procedures:  

The students' academic effort and progress is monitored on a regular basis. Each student is given a weekly grade for effort in each subject. These grades also list areas of required action. Each set of effort marks is reported to parents on a termly basis. Subject teachers use a variety of assessment procedures for class work. Preps are set after each class and written work is taken in and marked regularly. Short class tests are also used.  

The students sit comprehensive written exams at the end of each term. The length of papers varies with forms, from one hour papers for first form to 2 hour papers in the senior school. The form VI students sit full length 'mock' papers in all subjects in the Hilary term. The exams finish 2 weeks before the end of term allowing time for detailed feedback to students on their performance.  

Parents are given regular updates on their child's progress. At midterm in the Michaelmas term they receive an interim report. This gives an effort grade for each subject and areas of required action. It also contains a brief overall comment from the housemaster. At the end of each term they receive a detailed report on each subject. These comments on both the student's performance in the exam and their progress during the term.  

There are three calendared opportunities for parents to attend parent teacher meetings to discuss their child's progress in detail. In cases where attendance is difficult, (for example for overseas parents) staff are happy to meet with individual parents where possible by prior arrangement. Parents are always free to contact the child's housemaster for particular concerns.        


The results in Leaving Certificate Physics are consistently good. The uptake of higher level is extremely high, in 2016 100% took higher level as compared with 77%  nationally. Over the past 5 years on average 75% of physics pupils in St Columba’s have achieved an A or B grade at higher level. The table below summarises the results for 2016 in comparison with national figures.

Comparison with National figures


SCC Results


National Results