Is it different for boys?

There is much talk of a boy crisis and the redundant male,
A quick search on google  pulls out these statements.
Boys are underachieving
Boys need to understand the purpose of what they are doing
Boys have an anti-school attitude and a laddish culture
Boys like competition
There are not enough role model male teachers for boys
Boys don’t like reading
Teachers have lower expectations of boys work
Boys need more active learning styles
Boys overestimate their own ability
Boys are more disruptive than girls
Boys are more likely to have autistic spectrum disorders
Boys suffer from more mental health issues

Generalisations can lead to stereotyping at best unhelpful and often conceal more than they reveal. This is not a simplistic problem and there is a lot of evidence that the more gender considerations are applied , the worse things get.

The first thing that has to be said is that boys are not a homogeneous group with a single set of issues. What we really need to look for is which boys have the problem and ensure that by improving the performance of boys we don’t adversely affect the performance of girls or those boys who are already performing well.

As a parent with a daughter and three sons my feeling is that my boys show a far greater difference between each other than the gender differences they have with their sister. They act in certain ways because of who they are rather than because they are boys.

All of the statements have a degree of truth if we add some in front of the word boys. Many boys show none of these traits and are very successful. On leaving school the gender inequality in boardrooms is still massively weighted towards males. A mere 4.6% of the CEOs of the Fortune 1000 companies are female. here

Let’s look at these points one at a time

Boys are underachieving

IQs have been increasing at about 3 points every 10 years but whether our kids are any smarter is not so clear as outlined here 

The performance of boys and girls has improved on a yearly basis. However whether this is a real improvement or more to do with the way assessments are carried out again is not entirely clear. What is without doubt that on average boys are not improving at the same rate as girls. Certain groups of boys are faring far worse than the average boy.

Reports such as the ones below outline what researchers believe is happening. Though there seem to be few acknowledged truths.

Too Cool for School here

Raising Boys Achievement here

its a Global problem UNICEF report here

Boys need to understand the purpose of what they are doing

There is research that supports this West (2005) as a generalisation boys prefer to have writing tasks with a clear purpose rather than writing for the sake of it.
There is also sometimes a mismatch between the teachers perception and the boys, with teachers thinking boys taking notes are engaged, the boys thinking that they are wasting their time.

I have found that all students prefer to clearly understand the point of what they are doing. Girls often seem to have a greater motivation to please the teacher – Something I have found when talking to teachers of high achieving girls is that they can be desperate to get the right answer and do the right thing.


Boys have an anti-school attitude and a laddish culture

Many boys manage to be one if the lads and still be successful, but for others they need to conform to their peers. If the system is perceived to have little value to them many boys preserve their sense of self worth by fighting it. It is far easier to fit into an cultural norms than it is to fight it. I taught at a school with a very deeply embedded anti – learning culture that held most students back. The ones who came through it well have turned into some of the finest young men and women I know with massive resilience and the ability to make things happen.

There was some interesting research in the 70s by Paul Willis which still has some relevance today. He studied a group of 12 working-class boys during their last year and a half in school and their first few months at work. He conducted a series of interviews and observations within a school, with the aim of discovering why ‘working class kids get working class jobs’.

He identified two groups of pupils as the ‘lads’ and the ‘ear ‘oles’.

The ‘lads’ were working class boys who expressed a negative attitude to academic work and also showed strongly racist and sexist attitudes. They tried to drink and smoke to become part of a more adult world and thought that manual work, such as building, was far more important to mental work. Seeing as society is run by capitalism, the lads recognised that there was no such thing as an equal opportunity for them, as no matter how hard they tried, they would still remain far less successful than middle class students. This links to the Marxist idea that there is no meritocracy in a capitalist society.

One of the main motivations for the lad’s rejecting their education would be the ear’oles.

The ear’oles were seen as school conformists by the lads and were the complete opposite to them when it came to academic progress. Ear ‘oles were looked down on by the lads as they were the children who followed the school rules, respected their teachers, and commited to their education. Lads did not just dislike ear’oles, they felt they had superiority over them. This was because the lads believed that the ear’oles were wasting their time at school by not being able to have fun or be independent.

Willis found a number of similarities between the attitudes and behaviour developed by the lads in school and those on a shop floor at work. Having a laugh was important in both situations as a means of dealing with boredom, authority and repetitiveness.

The lads rejected school and mentally prepared themselves for a place in the workforce invariably at manual level. They learned to put up with boredom, had a laugh and to basically accepted the labour of low-skill and low-pay jobs.

Society has changed massively since the 70s but there are certainly elements I have taught within schools of boys looking for entertainment and seeing schools as an environment of hostile authority and meaningless work demands.
Boys like competition

In a study on running here  It was found that competition improved the performance of the boys, but made no real difference to girls

The study builds upon earlier work by the authors and Muriel Niederle of Stanford University, which also showed that competition improves the performance of males more than females, creating a gender gap which does not exist in non-competitive environments.

The earlier study tested responses to a mental rather than physical task. In a lab experiment, men and women were asked to solve simple maze problems on a computer, and were paid according to different criteria. The average age of the participants was twenty-three years old.

When subjects were paid for individual performance, there was no significant gender difference in the results. When subjects were paid on a competitive basis, and only the subject with the best outcome was paid, the performance of the male subjects increased significantly, while that of the female subjects remained constant.

Other studies have found clear losers in a competitive culture and a tendency to give up if success wasn’t instant. Competition should be used carefully.
There are not enough role model male teachers for boys

With a changing workforce that values traditional male strengths less and communication and literacy there are some boys who can’t see a future, nor the point of education.

Male role models are still mainly sports stars and few intellectual pursuits are seen as being cool. Male teachers can show that learning can be a masculine activity. However Male teachers can sometimes reinforce a macho or ‘laddish’ culture and the learning climate can often be characterised by confrontation.

We all know teachers with the traits shown by Brian Glover


There has  been a huge reduction in the number of male teachers from 40% in the 80s to around 25% today . Only 13% of primary teachers being male and a rapid decline in the number of male teachers in secondary school. Some research has found that boys prefer male teachers as they ‘get them’ but other research has found that the gender makes no difference, what matters is the pedagogical approaches and respectful relationships.
What is certain is that we don’t necessarily need more unthinking male teachers, we need more male teachers who model a caring, thoughtful masculinity.

Boys don’t like reading

There is a wealth of research on this that indicates that boys are less inclined to read than girls globally. That may be in part that the type of reading and the types of books are not what many boys find interesting.

The literacy trust report has some recommendations – full report here


Boys’ underachievement in reading is a significant concern for schools across the country. In a National Literacy Trust survey, 76% of UK schools said boys in their school did not do as well in reading as girls. 82% of schools have developed their own strategies to tackle this.
 The issue is deep-seated. Test results consistently show this is
a long-term and international trend. Boys’ attitudes towards reading and writing, the amount of time they spend reading and their achievement in literacy are all poorer than those of girls.
 Boys’ underachievement in literacy is not inevitable. It is not simply a result of biological differences; the majority of boys achieve in literacy and are fluent readers.
 The Boys’ Reading Commission has found that boys’ underachievement in reading is associated with the interplay of three factors:
– The home and family environment, where girls are more likely to be bought books and taken to the library, and where mothers are more likely to support and role model reading;
– The school environment, where teachers may have a limited knowledge of contemporary and attractive texts for boys and where boys may not be given the opportunity to develop their identity as a reader through experiencing reading for enjoyment;

– Male gender identities which do not value learning and reading as a mark of success.

The Commission’s Recommendations
1. Schools should have access to an evidence framework to inform effective practice in supporting boys’ reading.
2. Every child should be supported by their school in developing as a reader. Crucially, schools must promote reading for enjoyment and involve parents (overtly fathers) in their reading strategies.
3. Every teacher should have an up-to-date knowledge of reading materials that will appeal to disengaged boys.
4. Parents need access to information on how successful schools are in supporting boys’ literacy.
5. Libraries should target children (particularly boys) who are least likely to be supported in their reading at home.
6. Social marketing and behavioural insight need to be deployed to encourage parents to support the literacy of their children – especially boys.
7. Every boy should have weekly support from a male reading role model.
8. Parenting initiatives must specifically support literacy and fathers.
9. A cross-Government approach to literacy needs to be developed and coordinated.

One of the key issues may well be how reading fits into their idea of masculinity, if reading is considered  feminine then any measure other than male role models is doomed to fail. . This is explored in depth here 

Pic of masculinity
Teachers have lower expectations of boys work

Some studies have found that teachers underestimate boys abilities due to the disorganised nature and poor presentation of work, compounded by weak literacy skills.
There are some great blogs on this by hunting English
Boys need more active learning styles

There was a push to give boys lots of kinaesthetic activities, but there is little, if any, evidence that it improved their performance. However it would be interesting to see if this reduced behavioural issues.
Making a generalisation that I warned about at the start as a science teacher I found that in a practical if boys didn’t know what to do many would just make it up themselves whereas most girls would ask (or do nothing)
Many boys would like to try a task without advice where girls would often prefer to know exactly what to do.


Boys overestimate their own ability

There is evidence for this particularly in maths.
Boys also have a tendency to put success down to luck and being clever, rather than effort.

However Westerners have a tendency to overestimate their ability (unlike eastern cultures ) with something called the superiority illusion full article here

Since psychological studies first began, people have given themselves top marks for most positive traits. While most people do well at assessing others, they are wildly positive about their own abilities, A researcher David Dunning said.

That’s because we realize the external traits and circumstances that guide other people’s actions, “but when it comes to us, we think it’s all about our intention, our effort, our desire, our agency — we think we sort of float above all these kinds of constraints,”

In studies, most people overestimate their IQ. For instance, in a classic 1977 study, 94 percent of professors rated themselves above average relative to their peers. In another study, 32 percent of the employees of a software company said they performed better than 19 out of 20 of their colleagues. And Dunning has found that people overestimate how charitable they’ll be in future donation drives, but accurately guess their peers’ donations.

Why the dumb think they are smart

In 1999, Justin Kruger and David Dunning, from Cornell University, New York, tested whether people who lack the skills or abilities for something are also more likely to lack awareness of their lack of ability. At the start of their research paper they cite a Pittsburgh bank robber called McArthur Wheeler as an example, who was arrested in 1995 shortly after robbing two banks in broad daylight without wearing a mask or any other kind of disguise. When police showed him the security camera footage, he protested “But I wore the juice”. The hapless criminal believed that if you rubbed your face with lemon juice you would be invisible to security cameras.

Why the not funny think they are funny !

Kruger and Dunning were interested in testing another kind of laughing matter. They asked professional comedians to rate 30 jokes for funniness. Then, 65 undergraduates were asked to rate the jokes too, and then ranked according to how well their judgements matched those of the professionals. They were also asked how well they thought they had done compared to the average person.

As you might expect, most people thought their ability to tell what was funny was above average. The results were, however, most interesting when split according to how well participants performed. Those slightly above average in their ability to rate jokes were highly accurate in their self-assessment, while those who actually did the best tended to think they were only slightly above average. Participants who were least able to judge what was funny (at least according to the professional comics) were also least able to accurately assess their own ability.
Boys are more disruptive than girls

Whatever the truth of this and some argue that schools are set up as havens for girls and prisons for boys the statistics show that boys are nearly 4 times as likely to be excluded than girls according to 2012 findings. here

Extract below

Despite our claims of being an equal society that treats children on their merits, some groups of children are far more likely to be excluded from school than others. These are children who are vulnerable because of who they are, and because of the challenges already present in their lives. They are:
• boys rather than girls;
• children with some types of special needs;
children from some specific ethnic backgrounds, and
• the children of the poor.

To illustrate the impacts on individual children, it is useful to imagine two hypothetical young English people: Jack and Jill. They are the same age, and attend the same school. They have the same rights under the Human Rights Act, and the UNCRC.
• Jack has SEN, assessed at School Action Plus. He is of Black Caribbean background, and lives in a low-income household. He receives free school meals.

  • Jill does not have SEN, is from a White British background, and lives in a more affluent household.

The DfE’s analysis of the data shows Jack is 168 times more likely than Jill to be permanently excluded from school before the age of 16, and 41 times more likely than she is to be excluded for a fixed term. Truly frightening statistics.

Many teachers have a tendency to discipline boys publicly and girls privately and this can cause resentment and inflame tensions.

Boys are more likely to have autistic spectrum disorders

This is indeed true but with a proviso – taken from  here
Autism (including Asperger syndrome) appears to be more common among boys than girls. This could be because of genetic differences between the sexes, or that the criteria used to diagnose autism are based on the characteristics of male behaviour. However, our understanding is far from complete, and this will remain the case until we know more about the causes of autism.

Why are boys far more likely to develop autism than girls?
There is strong evidence to suggest that there are more boys with ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) than girls. Brugha (2009) surveyed adults living in households throughout England, and found that 1.8% of males surveyed had an ASD, compared to 0.2% of females.

In epidemiological research Wing (1981) found that among people with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome there were as many as fifteen times as many males as females. On the other hand, when she looked at people with learning difficulties as well as autism the ratio of boys to girls was closer to 2:1. This would suggest that, while females are less likely to develop autism, when they do they are more severely impaired.

It is difficult to explain why the sexes should be affected differently by autism

Attwood (2000), Ehlers and Gillberg (1993) and Wing (1981) have all speculated that many girls with Asperger syndrome are never referred for diagnosis, and so are simply missing from statistics. This might be because the diagnostic criteria for Asperger syndrome are based on the behavioural characteristics of boys, who are often more noticeably “different” or disruptive than girls with the same underlying deficits. Girls with Asperger syndrome may be better at masking their difficulties in order to fit in with their peers, and in general have a more even profile of social skills. Gould and Ashton-Smith (2011) say that because females with ASDs may present differently from males, diagnostic questions should be altered to identify some females with ASDs who might otherwise be missed.

Another hypothesis (Wing 1981) is based on evidence that, in the general population, females have better verbal skills, while males excel in visuo-spatial tasks. There may be a neurological basis for this, so that autism can be interpreted as exaggeration of “normal” sex differences. But environmental and social factors may also play a part in sex differences in ability, which means that no direct analogy can be drawn between the poorer verbal skills of boys and the higher incidence of autism in males.

A couple of useful videos


And this truly amazing video


Boys suffer from more mental health issues

Aged 5-10 boys are almost twice as likely as girls to suffer from mental health problems (10.4% vs 5.9%) but in teenage years this gap narrows (12.8% vs 9.7%) the perception of boys can be that they are tougher than they appear.
Many boys lack the informal support networks that girls have.
Boy culture is often one where mocking is the main form of interaction and compliments rarely are given. If you have a problem you are on your own.

There is an alarming tendency of boys retreating into bedrooms and eschewing social contact. These are typified by the hikikomori in Japan here

Video games addiction is also massively more prevalent amongst boys than girls. The reasons are complex but should be seen as their solution to a problem, rather than the problem itself.
What is clear is that there are no simple solutions. High performing schools with little gender gap have not got in place ‘boy friendly’ curriculums or learning styles. What we need to do about some of our underachieving boys is still not clear, what is obvious is that stereotyping and quick fix solutions won’t make a positive difference.

An interesting read is the Gender and. Education Mythbusters here 

This is simply a draft and Id like to add any more information and blogs to it so please add links in the comments section


Behaviour – beyond compliance – A personal perspective


There are a lot of behaviour gurus out there, some offering genuinely good advice and others with very slick and entertaining stage shows that lack any real substance.

These are some that I have found useful

The first person who ever seemed to give me stuff that worked was Bill Rogers the ever reliable Tom Sherrington @headguruteacher has a great summary blog here

Tom Bennett @tombennett71 at the TES. Here

Sarah Findlater @Msfindlater has got some useful links on her excellent Pinterest account here

Ross McGill @teachertoolkit has some useful stuff as always including the 5 minute behaviour plan available here

Sue Cowley @Sue_Cowley talks a lot of sense and you will find her website here

This is a personal account of what I have found works for me.

I feel immensely privileged that within my various roles I still teach regularly, observed by others, and can be in a failing inner city comprehensive one day and a top performing independent school the next. We have to take our students on a journey they may be reluctant to go on, armed with only the force of our personality – That is a serious challenge! I have taught in some of the toughest schools on the planet, sometimes successfully, at other times failing miserably. Failure is always a learning experience and my last nine years of teaching as an AST in challenging schools was filled with these. But there are also those days where you walk out of the classroom buzzing, knowing why you are a teacher; a feeling you can’t explain to those who have never felt it – those who often decide educational policy!

Turning around failing schools is not rocket science, it’s very hard work. You need to change an embedded culture of anti learning.

One model is to follow the way that the New York Subway System was reclaimed in the 1980s – identifying the ‘broken window syndrome; where if one window is broken and not fixed then all the windows would be subsequently broken. The subway carriages were covered in graffiti, a clear indication of lawlessness and this was the first priority to fix.


1980s Grafitti

The strategy was interesting: they found that the graffiti artists/vandals (use whichever fits your viewpoint) would take 3 days. The first day they would paint the carriages white then build up their artwork over the next 2 days. They were not prevented from doing this, instead as soon as they had finished the work it was painted over, thus demoralising them. They were not preventing them from wrongdoing, they were preventing them from benefitting from wrongdoing. No car covered in graffiti was allowed back into service.

Another example was fare dodging which was endemic: when others were clearly getting away without paying the temptation was to do it yourself. A very visible system of punishment was created with fare dodgers daisy chained together on the platform and processed in a bus parked outside the station.
No windows left broken; rules that are enforced clearly and consistently undeniably work and can lead to compliance and hence control is regained.

Is it simply compliance we want in the classroom though?

It is possible to make a dog come towards you by offering a treat and move away from him by kicking it, what is much harder is to get the dog to obey you without these extrinsic drivers. Reward and threat can give us the behaviour we want to see, but is this enough? I want my students to behave because they understand that it is the right thing to do, not from a fear of the consequences or a rote response. In terms of motivation this is an interesting video by Dan Pink

I am sure I am not alone in admitting that I am often probably the most disruptive influence in my classroom. When they are all quietly getting on with work I get bored. I hated teaching in a school where the students worked in silence. I wanted to know their hopes, dreams and fears, what motivated them. I teach young people first and the subject second and find that showing a genuine interest in them pays dividends in their behaviour and performance. By building relationships, I could use the most powerful weapon of all – disappointment. We reflect anger but disappointment is crushing (I can still remember the sad look on my much loved Biology teacher Mr Woodward’s face when I hadn’t done my homework!) I hope I have been a good role model by showing those with challenging home lives how to build genuine caring relationships.

The teachers who influenced me most and had a lasting impact on my life were not the most efficient ones, they were the ones with a passion who were not afraid to show their humanity.

We can create systems that force compliance. We can make students stand up as we enter the room to ‘show respect’. These systems of rules tend to have the opposite effect on me personally and bring out my subversive side, honed in my own traditional grammar school education that bored me to distraction. I was very successful at decoding exam papers and that was all that was required to be ‘successful’ with very little effort nor in depth thinking taking place (hence the shallow person I am today!)

Reactance – What would you do when faced with this photo?

Why the compulsion to do what it tells us not to?

We suffer from reactance which often compels us to break rules because we have lost the right to choose.

an interesting study here suggests that raising the drinking age actually caused higher levels of underage drinking


Reactance often causes us to act irrationally, particularly in those ‘difficult’ teenage years where our reaction to the nagging of our parents rarely was the way they intended, nor what was best for us. Yet somehow we expect our young charges to take notice of us! Some interesting research on reactance is here


Evidently we need to make our rules purposeful, but rather than set rules I negotiate inviolable rights

The right to be safe – mentally and physically
The right to learn
The right to be treated with respect

These are then protected with rules
We have the right to be safe so I will not endanger others
We have the right to learn so I will not interfere with the learning of others
We have the right to be treated with respect so I will respect others

This is pretty much a catch all – you will only fall out with me if you break any of these 3 rules, but you will always fall out with me if you do.

This also allows us to deal with the students talking when we are by challenging them with “if you were talking to me and I started talking to someone else, would I be treating you with respect?” They can’t answer ‘yes’, so you point out they have broken the rules and hence have lost the right to …. sit there/leave the lesson on time/other benefit. As opposed to getting into the argument ‘ I was talking about the work ….’

I never talk about work in my lessons, always learning. I’m not impressed with pages of notes that have no meaning to the student or the copied and pasted stuff they seem to consider as good enough.
This is a huge generalisation of a strategy I use for dealing with classes to manage them effectively without simply resorting to compliance.

Starting Lessons

As the students come in I smile at them firing up their mirror neurones

Using brain imaging, scientists have explored the areas of the brain that are activated when we see another person smile. Of course, you’d expect the visual areas of the brain to light up. But other areas of the brain light up too, including the premotor cortex, an area that helps activate our own smiling muscles and the somatosensory and insula cortices, areas that report what it feels like physically and emotionally to smile. Neurons that fire both when we observe and when we take part in an action are called mirror neurons. When we see someone smile, mirror neurons simulate our own smiling. Does this simulation or reenactment help us to understand what another person is feeling? Full article here

Similarly if you frown at your class you will get them mirroring unhappiness back at you – that doesn’t seem worth it to me!

I now attempt to analyse my class to identify and work with any threats, using a not very scientific version of Mclellands Theory of needs – summary here . This is a very imprecise technique but it seems to work for me. It is very easy to label students and then use confirmation bias to see what you expect to see, so please use with caution and forgive me for gross generalisations.

We have three basic needs according to Mclelland. The need to achieve, affiliate with others and to have some power. I’m looking for the individuals who have a major need for power. I watch their body language as they enter the room: some will be making themselves small, these are unlikely to be threats. Others will have wide open stances and hold eye contact for a little longer than the rest, it is within this group that there is likely to be the possible threats.

A great video that can help change lives is Amy Cuddy

Achievers have a key driver of being successful. I divide them into two broad categories:

Quiet achievers : groups of girls who tend to sit near the front and never say anything. The ones I used to feel guilty about for never giving them enough attention or knowing anything about them when parents evening came (and their parents always came!) Individual boys who often would be sneered at by the others for the crime of trying hard. These types are not threats, but are often very needy and can dislike independent learning tasks.

Noisy achievers: spotted as soon as the first question is asked as they shout out or wave frantically at you. These can be the most annoying kids on the planet, often the offspring of the most annoying parents on the planet. These can destroy your lessons by dominating questioning. They are often deeply unpopular with their classmates but are completely unaware of this. Using ‘pose pause pounce bounce’ outlined by @teachertoolkit here and Dylan Wiliam below. I target them first and regularly come back to them.



Affiliates: By far the largest group, these may well be wearing the regulation Superdry/Hollister/Nike/Armani (delete as appropriate to the socioeconomic status of your school!) or the slight defiance to school uniform short fat tie etc. The haircut will also conform to the unofficial (hence far more likely to be adhered to) regulation norm. Being part of the group is far more important than being successful and if you have an embedded anti-learning, or that which I find worse, apathetic culture, then you have your work cut out. I remember as a clueless NQT admonishing the whole class with ‘if you carry on like this you will all fail!’ Thus bonding them together to fail as one with all the nonsensical rationale that only teenagers can muster.

Power People: This group hold status as the most important driver. These have the potential to be a threat, either in terms of behaviour or in turning the class against me or my teaching methods. If they are a personal power person they tend just to want to fight and have little influence on the others. Group power people have the potential to lead the affiliates and hence every lesson can turn into a battle over the allegiance of the affiliates.

Male power people: tend to be alpha males and will enter your room noisily. Falling out with males rarely is a long term issue and tends not to extend to their friends who can be marvellously disloyal.

Female power people: tend to be those that are the most extreme in dress – the brightest orange/shortest skirt/most makeup/biggest hair/other extreme feature! However, it is the number of social interactions which really hold the key to their power. Falling out with these can create an enemy for life and one with a hugely loyal army who also hate you unreservedly! Sometimes there is little you can do apart from damage limitation and wait for them to leave!

How to deal effectively with these power people in the longer-term, I’ll leave for another blog. However if their status depends entirely on how well they perform in your classroom and they are not naturally gifted at your subject then you will tend to suffer.

By being aware and dealing with these different drivers we can create a classroom climate where the needs of the individual students are being met. We can then go beyond compliance towards a self – regulated class.






10 cool ideas for teaching reflection of light

Different approaches for teaching the reflection of light -Specular vs diffuse Reflection

These ideas are from the Institute of Physics 2014 PIPER conference check out the twitter conversations on #PIPER14. These ideas are stolen from a workshop that combined Institute of Physics TLCs (Teaching and Learning Coaches) and PNCs (Physics Network Coordinators)

When I was teaching I probably wouldn’t have bothered reading this, but please do as it has some great ideas in it.


Easy to teach right?

The only diagrams you need are the ones below


However, can your students answer these questions?

If you shine a laser onto the ceiling everyone in the room can see it – why? (diffuse reflection)
If you shine the laser onto a mirror so it reflects onto the ceiling will you be able to see the beam on the mirror? (No!)
What about shining a laser onto a TV screen, tablet, phone, projector screen. Will the intensity you see the reflection vary depending on the angle?

If you shine a laser onto the image produced by a mirage creator or the horrendously misnamed science museums hologram creator, what would you see?




(This blew my mind! The spot of the laser illuminates the image of the pig! )


Prelude to the lesson

A fun and engaging activity not so much for improving their physics, but I like them to have something to take home that shows how physics is cool.

Print out or have students draw two stars, one inside the other – There is a worksheet here but please draw attention to the horrific laser eyes ray diagram !!

The setup is as shown below or simply have them hold the mirror up above their eyes



What else do we need to know before we teach this?

Light travels in straight lines – what’s the evidence?

Pinhole cameras – lots of fun but you must decide what learning takes place . These are great for ‘What happens if…? ‘ type questions.

What might happen if:

The pinhole becomes bigger/smaller/multiple …
The camera becomes shorter/longer/wider …
The image is nearer/further/bigger/smaller ……

Let them loose to come up with ideas and explore!

23 Pinhole cameras to build yourself here

Shadow puppets

A nice one to do with a cross curricular project with art where they can make shadow puppets or explore reflection of light with colours.

What might happen if …..

The puppet is moved closer to /further from the light source/the screen

alternatively learn some of these



Laws of reflection

A video to start with can be this kitten. What may it be noticing about the laws of reflection?



An interesting one is to look at the front facing camera of a phone which laterally inverts the image while you set it up. This enables you to turn the phone the same way you would a mirror. The image itself when taken is the right way round – hence it looks weird! get them to write selfie on a post-it note and stick it on their forehead. It will look laterally inverted when they look at the phone, but when they take the picture it is the right way round. Get them to discuss – why do they do that?
Reflections in a mirror

Give them a mirror and get them to work out the laws and what misconceptions people may have, then ask the question – why is the image laterally inverted, but not upside down?


Maths cross curricular ideas

Put two mirrors together with an object in front of them on a sheet with a protractor on it (or printed) as shown in the diagram. What is the relationship between the angle between the mirrors and the number of images seen?
There are some good examples here




Estimate the height of a tall tree.

There are several different ways to do this outlined here or here

Problem solving using similar triangles and a mirror
You are given a mirror and a metre rule. Calculate the height of a tall object


Real life problem – the Walkie Talkie building that melted a car!

Read the news articles here and here


What could you do?
What did they do?
Finally a crazy idea which I take credit but not responsibility for

Lighting a fire with a coke can. I ran this lesson a few times massively successfully but the risks are significant so please risk assess and check your school is happy for you to do it.
Students are given a coke can, cocktail sticks , tape, a kitkat bar, paper, coloured pens, a clamp etc and told to light a fire!

Full instructions here




Please feel free to add any more ideas in the comments section