As a teacher, what do I have to do?

Successful teams have to be motivated and resourceful. The teacher is just one possible facilitator and mentor. You don’t have to do the work: they do!

I’d recommend you start in early spring (well before the Year 11 and 12 students get close to exam leave). Maybe start immediately after the practice exams by telling good students about the competition or demonstrating one of the problems to a good class. This year the Ping Pong Rocket might be a good stimulator.

The sort of students who will do well at this competition are the sort who will be intrigued by the problems and have the tenacity to find out more from the web and get other students involved. They may also be motivated by the prospect of an international trip representing New Zealand in an international competition! You may like to invite students who are both good at physics, keen to carry out their own research and work well in a team.

What happens then depends on your students and on how much time you have. If you have an interested nucleus of students you could suggest that they each take one question to work on over the summer, and agree to reconvene in early February, before school gets busy. From early Feb it is good if you can offer them use of a lab and access to equipment on, at least, a weekly basis. Supervision, for safety reasons, would be necessary, but you could be doing something else while they got on with it! It will be helpful for the team if you give them constructive criticism.

It generally falls to the teacher to enter the team and organise payment of the fee. We would normally expect a teacher to accompany the team to the competition. If possible we would appreciate a teacher who can act as a jury member on the day.

What if I don’t know the answers?

The questions have been carefully chosen so that you can’t find the answers out of known resources. For most of the problems no-one knows answers! A good solution involves application of physics theory and lots of practical experimentation to get reliable data.

What if a team gets outside help?

That is all part of being resourceful. In a Physics Fight the team must present a solution to the problem and then defend it. If they don’t understand the solution they have just presented, or if they didn’t do the experimental work themselves, this is painfully obvious to the judges and the team will do badly. It is up to the team to make sure that they completely understand and can defend everything they present. Getting outside help – from books, the internet, advice from experts, loan of equipment and facilities – its all part of getting a solution and it is all permitted.

What if my team faces a top team in the first round?

Teams that face good opponents often score well in that same “fight” or match. Having good physics to question or defend brings out the best in both teams. In a good match both the problem reporters and opponents score highly.

Who can compete?

All students attending school throughout the year of the competition can take part – not those who are attending full time university. This is usually students who are Year 12 or 13 in the March of the competition, but some exceptional students are Year 11.

Isn’t this a competition just for the occasional genius?

No, this is a competition which prizes resourcefulness, communication and scientific inquiry. Being brilliant at physics, alone, won’t win a physics fight. The need for team work, the ability to answer and debate questions “on your feet” as well as having good problem-solving skills are key attributes for any student who wants to do well. Most of the problems for the NZ fights are accessible on many levels.