One year ago as Physics teacher Aarti Dowlath published her two units of CAPE Revision Guides she was already plotting her next move–a book that covers the spectrum of foundational Physics. This new book would cater to the Physics CSEC syllabus addressing all the topics covered under the course for students from Forms one to Five.
Yet, as the St Augustine Girls’ High School teacher worked through Christmas breaking down thermal Physics, electricity, magnetism and waves for teenagers, she had no idea how important this piece of work would become in 2020. As the pandemic settled in for the long haul and schools were closed near Easter, Dowlath knew this would become much more than a schoolbook. She could see any teacher’s greatest fear playing out right in front of her, hundreds of students being left behind. If the line was blurred before, the pandemic brought clarity to the digital divide among students in this country. Even more so, with a subject as complexed as Physics that is often taught in labs, and now, with no physical interaction between students and teachers, this tranche of students risked falling so far behind it would be too much ground to regain.
As the nation came to a slow stop in late March entering the first lockdown, Dowlath pressed the gas on her book. “The lockdown and present COVID-19 pandemic accelerated my progress as I wanted to produce material that would help students as they study at home during this time,” she told the Sunday Guardian.
The situation required such immediacy she would self-publish the book ‘Mastering CSEC Physics for Forms: 1 to 5’. “It was the measures of the COVID-19 situation that made it conducive to self-publish as it was more feasible at this time,” she added. Now Dowlath is in the process of working to develop her book into an ebook that would further connect with the requirements of this learning generation.
The crux of the text is in its conciseness and relevance to the objectives of the CSEC syllabus but Dowlath didn’t do it on her own. A CAPE teacher for 14 years, she sought the advice of students from Form Four all the way to Upper Six. The result was a book that was more closely aligned with how students studying the subject actually think about it. “This text was inspired by the student. It caters for the student who wants an elementary yet intricate presentation of theory. My text is excellent for guidance in Physics calculations as each worked example is presented in a ‘step-by-step’ approach to questions that mirror past paper questions.”
She went further in explaining, “The worked examples are closely aligned to the styles of the questions normally generated in the actual exam.”
“There are ample practice worksheets covering all the topics. There is also a separate section dealing with experiments that is designed to aid with SBAs (School Based Assessments). The book allows students to read and understand independently,” she stated.
That’s the great challenge of the times we live in. With the interaction between students and teachers both virtual and distant, children, one can say, are almost summoned to carry a larger load of responsibility for their own education. Dowlath herself is still trying to adjust to the virtual way of teaching but she does advise her fellow teachers to embrace it. The 34-year-old said, “It has indeed been an eye-opening experience for me. I must admit that technology does offer some advantages in terms of the feasibility to present materials and the ease to infuse videos and simulations into classes. I believe it is the best alternative at this time and I am using it as an opportunity to develop and expand my teaching pedagogy.”
‘Mastering CSEC Physics’ spans the five sections of the syllabus from measurements, thermal Physics, electricity, magnetism, waves and the Physics of the atom with concise notes accompanying each topic. “The notes are relevant to the objectives of the syllabus and are written in a simple yet comprehensive format,” she said.
Dowlath went on to explain, “The textbook also offers worked examples which mirror past paper questions. Each worked example is guided by a step by step approach to developing analytical and critical thinking skills imperative in preparing students for this regional exam.”
It is her third book drawing from over a decade of teaching and examination marking experience. The structure of the book, she said, allows students to work alongside their teachers. The hurdle for Dowlath and other science teachers around the region to now overcome is the practical lab work students would usually spend hours of their school year working on. Among the 303-page textbook, there is a section separately for experiments illustrating each topic across the syllabus. “This format seeks to aid students in their laboratory written reports as well as identifying the practical aspects of each topic,” Dowlath told the Sunday Guardian.
As the pages thin out and the book comes to a close, there is a glossary featuring the works of legends like Newton and Einstein. Students can take inspiration that such great scientists, too, lived through pandemics. In fact, some of Newton’s greatest works are credited to have come out of that year between 1665 to 1666 in which he self-isolated as a 22-year-old during the Great Plague of London. When he returned to Cambridge in 1667 within six months, he was made a fellow. Two years later, a professor. More than a century later as Einstein built on the work of Newton, he too would live through the Spanish Flu famously insisting, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”