"Making physics vivid and interesting"

Bahar Behzadi, physics teacher at the Freies Gymnasium Zürich, participated with her pupils in the last year's competition "Physics in Advent". The class performed excellently in the competition and was granted a visit to the Swiss Science Center Technorama in Winterthur. In the interview, the 44-year-old teacher reports on her experiences.

Bahar Behzadi, physics teacher at the 'Freies Gymnasium Zürich'.
Image: zVg

Mrs. Behzadi, you just visited the Swiss Science Center Technorama in Winterthur together with your pupils. How did your class appraise the science exhibition?

Very well. The visit has been very timely, as we currently deal with oscillations and waves in the class. There is a very nice exhibition in the Technorama relating to these subjects. We also try to make physical phenomena understandable at school, but we cannot compete with what Technorama offers.

What, for example, can be seen in Winterthur, that you do not have available at school?

We can show a transversal or a longitudinal wave in the school, but not in such dimensions as here in the Technorama. New to the pupils were the experiments relating to standing waves. What we cannot show at the school are, for example, the big discharge sparks when discussing electricity, as well as experiments involving superconductors.

'Physics in Advent' is an advent calendar on the Internet, in which pupils can carry out by themselves a simple physical experiment every December day before Christmas. What motivated you to participate in the competition a year ago?

I have joined 'Physics in Advent' since the beginning, and I am joining it right now in 2016 again. Activities of this kind enrich my lessons. There are some experiments I do have to think about myself in order to fully understand them. Some of the experiments we carry out in class. For this, we first prepare the necessary material, as described on the website of 'Physics in Advent'. The experiments then often lead to exciting discussions with the pupils.

'Physics in Advent' presents a new experiment every day, while you do not teach daily the pupils in physics. How do you solve this problem?

I join 'Physics in Advent' with my 'Schwerpunktfach' class. There are only eight, nine motivated students, which makes it easier to cooperate. On the days without physics lessons, we sometimes meet during the breaks to discuss the experiments. Or the students do the experiments alone at home, create then a video, and finally we do a common chat about it.

Under which conditions is the participation to 'Physics in Advent' particularly recommended for physics teachers?

Students from 'Schwerpunktfach' classes are of course particularly interested. In the 'Grundlagenfach' sometimes it is at least possible to arouse interest. If you teach a whole class with 20 pupils, it is better to choose one or two experiments instead of working through the whole Advent calendar. With so many pupils, the proceeding and the discussion of the experiments can be quite exhausting.

Our website deals mainly with the physics of elementary particles. What role does this discipline play in your lessons at the Freies Gymnasium Zürich?

We are treating atomic and nuclear physics. I have never taught elementary particle physics in my classes. But the topic is quite interesting to me, especially since the students are very keen in visiting CERN. Until now, I simply had no time to design a suitable teaching unit. I would like to do this, as I have done for quantum mechanics.

What is your personal recipe to raise your student’s interest in physics?

Physics is a subject with many fascinating phenomena and practical applications. This must be made visible to the pupils, and they must be given the opportunity to try by their own. Unfortunately, this is only possible with small classes. This implies that schools have to invest the necessary time and money.

You studied in Teheran and at the ETH Zurich, got your PhD, and then spent five years at ABB working on semiconductor technology. Is this background an advantage for you when teaching physics?

The experience I gained in industry comes as a big advantage to me for teaching physics at schools. I can show to the students the importance of technology in everyday life and how much we depend on it. This helps making physics in class vivid and interesting.

Interview: Benedikt Vogel

The students of Bahar Behzadi at the Technorama.
The students of Bahar Behzadi at the Technorama.Image: zVg

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  • High School II