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French teacher investigates how to teach Physics in English

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Vincent Languille, Physics teacher from the Lycée Léonard De Vinci, Levallois Perret, near Paris, was in college this week to learn more about teaching methods at Long Road. He observed – and took part in – Physics, Applied Physics and Chemistry lessons:

“At my lycée (similar to a sixth form college), there is a European department. Students have an opportunity to study British history and culture and to take an additional English Language course. They can also study either Physics or History in English for one hour a week. As I’m a Physics teacher, I wanted to make sure that I could teach in English as effectively as possible. The principal of my lycée gave me permission to find a placement in the UK,  I was awarded a 400 euro grant from a European Union professional exchange, and I then started looking for a college willing to accept me. Three years ago I studied English at a language school in Cambridge so I asked my landlady at that time for advice. She suggested Long Road, you agreed to accept me, so here I am!

“My visit has been something of an eye-opener. The teaching method at Long Road is very different from the one at my lycée. We tend to focus on the more theoretical / academic approach, by which I mean that we present the theory and then get students to read and prepare for their practicals – this takes three hours a week – and then carry out the practicals for another two hours. At Long Road your students seem to be more mature and better at taking responsibility for their learning. You seem to use practicals more as a starting point, and then deduce the theory from the results.

“You have a very different relationship with your students. Of course your students address their teachers by their first names, but it is more than that. Your students are far more confident about asking for help when they need it, and there isn’t a distance between them and their teachers. It does help that you have 20 students maximum in the class, whereas I have classes of 35 students.

“What has been very interesting is the way that technical terms don’t always translate exactly from French to English. For example, you use two words: speed, which denotes scale, and velocity, which denotes a vector. We use one word, vitesse to mean scale and vector, but make use of symbols to show the difference:

\vec{v}

for vector and

v

for speed. Of course you use these symbols in your classrooms, but you discuss the underlying concepts verbally and in more depth.

“Finally, I would say that there is a difference in motivation between your classes and ours. In France many students study sciences at their lycée as a stepping stone. They can use their results to get into a post-lycée  classe preparatoire and then move onto a grande école, rather than going to university. For these students science is not a subject that they take because they love it, or even because they want to work in a scientific field. They take it because it is considered a ‘superior’ type of subject, which will look good on their applications, and this means that they are not as motivated in class as they might be.

“I have learnt a tremendous amount this week and have much to reflect on when I return to France. I am extremely grateful to Long Road Sixth Form College, and to David Jones, head of physics in particular, for the warm welcome and assistance I received.”

Photo:  Vincent (first right) in an Applied Physics class with head of physics David Jones and students Georgina Shorey and Molly Price.