The Brilliant Blog

by Helen Parker


7th March 2017 – Launch Trip and Tutorial 1

The first time PhD researchers and their pupil cohorts meet is at a Launch Trip. This is an entire day visit to a University and includes a campus tour, activities designed to encourage pupils to think about Higher Education, and the very first tutorial. As this pilot is running in Glasgow, the University of Strathclyde hosted the day.

The first tutorial I planned was simple titled “Light” and introduced the historical developments leading up to the discovery of the wave-particle duality of light.

Through looking at evidence such as diffraction, polarization, refraction and interference, students are initially led to conclude that light behaves like a wave. This is similar to how scientists such as Christiaan Huygens and Thomas Young drew their conclusions. Students also get the opportunity to carry out Young’s double slit experiment themselves, which shows light diffracting through two slits and interfering to produce an unexpected pattern. At the end of the tutorial, the students are set homework to read an article that describes a phenomenon called the photoelectric effect and write a summary of what they have read. The photoelectric effect won Albert Einstein his nobel prize in 1921 for concluding that light was quantized like particles, called photons.

9th March 2017 – Tutorial 2

The pupils submit their homework online through a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) and feedback can be given in person or submitted back through the VLE. All students who completed their homework (and there were four who didn’t) seemed to have good overall understanding of the article, however a few struggled to articulate exactly how the interaction between photons and electrons in a metal behaved.

In this tutorial titled “Einstein, Planck and the Quantum Revolution”, the students revisit Young’s double slit experiment and see how the outcome of the experiment is different if you make an observation or not. This experiment can only be explained if light behaves sometimes as a wave and sometimes as a particle  – light has a wave-particle duality. We also discuss the photoelectric effect that they read about in their homework in more detail and watch a Youtube video which summarises a lot of what they have learned:

In order to understand the content of tutorial 3, pupils are asked to read descriptions of three light-matter interactions; absorption, spontaneous emission, and stimulated emission. We then play a game where students must identify related keywords to their meanings.

The homework set for the following tutorial is designed to summarise everything the students have been taught about so far. They have to describe the contributions of five influential physicists had to understanding the physics of light, as well as argue which they think was the most important. A second part to the homework consists of producing a one page document aimed at their peers who are not taking the course which fits the title “what is Young’s double slit experiment and how can it be used to show the wave-particle duality of light”. Students are encouraged to be creative – they can write a mini-essay, make a poster or visual aid, a script etc.

16th March – Tutorial 3

This tutorial began with an exercise that may have been a little bit uncomfortable if I had not made it anonymous! The homework set the week before, which included producing a document that pupils could use to help teach their peers about the wave-particle duality of light, was anonymised and handed out to the group for feedback.

Anticipating some shyness, I initially asked the students to read all of the submissions, say which pieces of work stood out, and to identify their strengths. Both groups seemed to have no problem picking out the work which I also believed was strongest; however, articulating what aspects of the work made them great was more challenging! It was even more of a challenge to prise out criticism from the students of their peers – I did expect some degree of this, so came prepared with my bad cop persona to get them going.

After a few silences and some awkward shuffling, they started making very good suggestions about some of the homeworks. They were mature and thoughtful with their comments and they seemed to understand that they were enabling each other to perform well. Together we created a summary of the do’s and don’t’s of communicating complex ideas. I hoped they would remember to reread these when they were set their final assignment, which includes producing a scientific report.

After this exercise of peer review, I thought the students would enjoy some healthy competition. They were separated into two teams and given a worksheet with anagrams to solve, such as I must miss one detail (stimulated emission). I wasn’t sure what the rules for bringing prizes into the school were so the first group to solve all of the anagrams and define them won bragging rights over the other team. Both groups had great fun working together to solve these anagrams and they were able to define them without much hesitation or prompting.

The final goal of the tutorial was to introduce how a laser works and how a laser can be built. There is a very simple but effective animation on the Wikipedia page (, which shows the sequence of events that must happen inside a laser before any light is produced. I then gave the students a sheet with the sequence of events out of order and, working as a group, they had to cut and stick them in the correct order into their handbooks. We had to watch the animation a fair few times before everyone agreed on the correct sequence of events.

The homework I set for the students at the end of the lesson was designed to give them practice finding and digesting information in external resources. They were given an article about laser cancer treatment and asked to answer questions on it as well as conduct their own independent research to find another use of lasers in medicine.

23rd March – Tutorial 4

Using the independent research each student conducted as part of their homework, we collated a list of diseases that can be treated with lasers and how they happen. The students had together found a surprisingly extensive list – Alzheimer’s, poor vision, macular oedema, hair loss, hair removal, psoriasis, other skin conditions, and gum disease. I was really pleased that they exposed each other to such a wide variety of resources which would help them for their final assignment.

One of the most exciting games we played as a group was a Snowball Fight. The students were each given a piece of paper: half of the group were asked to title the paper Theory of Light and the other half titled their paper Properties of a LASER. The aim of the game is to write down words, phrases or sentences related to the title of the page. They then crumple the page up into a ‘snowball’, make eye contact with someone else in the room and throw their ‘snowballs’ at each other. They then add to the new page and repeat until the end of a time limit. Students then offer up some of what is written on the paper they have in their possession and we discuss. I thought this exercise was very successful, the students appreciated doing something that they hadn’t experienced in the classroom before. Besides being a highly energetic game, they also felt at ease writing down whatever they could because of the partial anonymity it afforded them.

For the final twenty minutes of each tutorial I handed each group some resources about a particular disease that could be treated with lasers (photodynamic therapy and macular oedema). I explained to them that they should prepare to give a presentation of the disease to the other group next week. They would have autonomy over how they presented, who presented, and how long they presented for. It was difficult for them to accept complete responsibility of their work like this!

Their homework for this week was to produce a draft of their final assignment: a scientific report on lasers, and how we can use them to cure disease.

30th March – Tutorial 5

Both groups were asked to come to the same timeslot for this tutorial and they all spent the first twenty minutes further preparing for their presentations to the other group. The presentations went well, although I think more preparation than I gave them would be necessary to showcase how well they could really do. I allowed them to speak uninterrupted and then asked for questions from the other group. Afterwards I did have to extend some of the content from each group as well as refine some of what was said to make sure that the ideas were well understood and correct.

The rest of the tutorial was a competition between each group. I brought in a selection of keywords, and each team took turns to send up a representative to pick one keyword at random and define it to their team. Their team could discuss and offer a guess of the keyword. If they were incorrect on their first guess, it passed onto the other team who would get the opportunity to guess the keyword. The eventual winner of the keyword scored one point. Despite bringing in an odd number of keywords, a disqualification of one of them resulted in a dead heat! In order to decide the winner I made three statements about the physics of light, where one was true and the other two were fictitious. The first team to expose the fictitious statements and explain why they were incorrect won. I won’t underestimate how invested 13/14 years get in these kinds of games ever again!

Final Assignment

[coming soon]