A physics curriculum framework

Goals for the document

A curriculum framework document is a description of how physics may be accurately represented: a challenging series of interconnected ideas. Maybe it's a prose picture: aiming for less interpretative latitude than a prose poem. It's telling that other writers faced with this kind of challenge (essayists, philosophers, novelists, journalists), don't communicate in bullet points. (To bring the point home, if I write a checklist of what I'm seeing out the window now, that's a very weak attempt at communicating what's there. (It may, however, be an adequate aide-memoire for me)). An implemented curriculum concatenates teaching sequences, so the intended curriculum should be constructed of teachable sequences. A curriculum framework document is not an implementation plan, but to stand any chance of leading to an implemented curriculum the document will have achievable sequences in mind. For both these reasons, a curriculum framework document will have to be realistic teaching sequences for which cases are made. The document does not express a curriculum: it sets the scene for how curricula can be thought of and written.

Characterise the discipline

Physics is based on some important, rewarding and highly valued ways of thinking. For example, the community of physicists seek elegance, coherence and consistency, depends on the interplay of creative intuition, reason and experiment, and aims for parsimonious descriptions of great scope.

Do more with less

Aim for a frugal selection at all levels, choosing that which is:

Use, but don't caricature, the distinction between "know-how" and "know-that".

(Inspired bricolage is OK: QM was cobbled by putting together bits of CM and guessing which bits to leave out.)

Use pedagogically fruitful ontologies

This should be plausible, intelligible and fruitful, and not distort the cultural phenomenon that is physics. For example:

  1. Practices in Physics
  2. Explanations in Physics
  3. Interdependences of Physics Aim for a brief memorable descriptor, but don't assume that these alone will communicate clearly.
  4. Physics makes sense of the world through a set of interrelated practices
  5. Physics provides a reliable set of tested explanations
  6. Physics is strongly coupled with other intellectual, societal and cultural endeavours Avoid orthogonal arrangements in graphics unless the quantities really are independent: practices, explanations and interdependences are not. The ontology characterises what physicists think about and with, but breaks their thinking down to provide a courteous actionable framework.


Physics is based on some important, rewarding and highly valued ways of thinking. For example, the community of physicists seek elegance, coherence and consistency, depends on the interplay of creative intuition, reason and experiment, and aims for parsimonious descriptions of great scope. Develop a distinctive account of the world, describing by idealising and quantifying. Reimagine the world prioritising accounts of wide scope and of few kinds of constituents. Think creatively to suggest patterns beyond what’s noticed or recorded, aiming for coherence with existing accounts in physics, and seeking the most widely applicable descriptions. Support your suggestions with well-founded reasons based on empirical observations. Test the patterns by deriving predictions, then intervene to design experiments to check those predictions. Analyse the data from the experiments critically, checking for possible uncertainties or mistakes in measurement or supporting reasoning to achieve a defensible provisional account. Be prepared to defend your account against alternative interpretations and challenges from other data, and established patterns within physics. These include deriving observable predictions from numerical, algebraic or geometrical models based on your idealisations and quantifications, and from challenges based on critical reasoning about the internal coherence and consistency of your account with established scientific knowledge.

Thinking like a physicist is a didactic transposition, not a replication of thinking as a physicist, even if such a mythic monolith exists. Then it's reasonable to ask: "what's the purpose of the transposition?"

Suggestions for what children might gain by engaging with a curriculum based on a document containing such an account:

Avoid flag-planting words(particularly in bullet lists), such as "logical" (whose logic we're following?). (Wikipedia gives a not-bad overview of possible logics).

Narrative explanation

Big ideas are really foundational narratives. Consider Feynman's musings on one thing to pass on. Explanations have the character of a purposeful story. They are not atomistic propositions, nor deductive syllogisms. Writing short statements into a curriculum document alludes to stories, rather than explicitly telling them. So beware of the danger of compression. The advantage is that these frameworks of stories can be fleshed out in different ways for different age groups. But that makes them hard to write.

Kinds of explanations

These explanations may be usefully thought of as being of different kinds. There are explanatory schema in which the whole makes sense only in terms of interacting parts → "reductionism" "explanation depending on parts: reductionism"

There are explanatory schema in which the parts make sense only in terms of the whole → "systems" "explanation depending on the whole: emergence"

There are explanatory schema which rely on patterns. "explanation depending on patterns"

Sequences & Explanations

What I(more personal notes) have been pushing mostly for a while is the idea of thinking of teaching & learning physics as being about selecting sequences( & engaging with reasons for your choice), which are organised narrative explanations. As exemplification beats pontification, there are examples, developed where I saw the chance to do something better than was done in Supporting Physics Teaching, or where I believed there is a cultural gap in contemporary provision in the declarative element of physics.

You can find links to all of these at:


In most cases I have had a go at working out what a student-targeted reader would look like, to add further verisimilitude to the line of thinking.


(to promote engagement these contain spaced repetition questions, following earlier conversations. Writing these was an interesting exercise in task design.)

More recent interest in boxes led to a sketch of how reasoning with conservation laws might play out: curriculum frameworks need to pay attention to what is possible and desirable as well as current practice.

Teachable sequences

Teachable sequences are worked out and justified narratives(stories that we can tell ourselves that form reliable explanations of facets of the lived-in world), combining accounts of prototype teacher interventions, accounts of expected pupil actions in representing and reasoning, and connective rationale.

These are actionable narratives that illustrate, motivate and encourage teacher-activated interventions: exposition; elucidation; exploration.

The sequences might be constructed as a series of interlocking blocks: teacher intervention; pupil reasoning; rationale. A rationale block would support a teacher intervention and a pupil reasoning block. Such a grouping might form a teaching act, but he has deliberately not configured as a lesson plan to allow space for professional judgement and local interpretation.

A teachable sequence is a thought-out teaching sequence, ready to be localised and contextualised, and therefore likely to contain more extensive supporting notes, to encourage thoughtful localisation and contextualisation.

An ordered collection of such sequences forms an intended curriculum.

Once localised these teachable sequences become a teaching sequence which is an implementation plan.

These plans indicate intent, perhaps formalised as a scheme of work. The aim of the plan is to develop learners' ability to deploy appropriate explanations(so tell convincing and reliable stories).

A teaching sequence consists of a series of teaching acts or teaching moments, and will imply an imagined learning journey.

Teaching experiments are deliberate variations in practice, hopefully, based on teacher experience and wider evidence. An aim of developing teachable sequences is to foster such deliberative and reflective practice, encouraging the development and questioning of age-appropriate narrative explanations in physics as a core teacher competence.

The experienced learning journey is likely to be messier and describes what actually happened in the mind of the child, or at least as close as we can get.

Scheme of work

A scheme of work (SoW) is a localised teaching sequence.

An SoW is not a sequence of lesson plans but two parallel accounts of how designed teacher interventions, for which principles are shared (an anchor point for the evidence), affect the representations used and the reasoning done by children(another anchor point for evidence).

So two interwoven narratives: one where the teachers guide the narrative, the other where teachers observe the student's narratives and offer correctives.

Teachers are central in both because the SoW is a document for teachers

The liminal zone – Thinking together

Working in the liminal needs a high tolerance for ambiguity & uncertainty.