By Cailum Finnegan

I’m Cailum Finnegan, a full-time Alternative Provision Tutor and Lead Tutor for the Tutor Trust. Throughout my time working for the Tutor Trust I have tutored every subject that we offer, however my experience in education extends back a little further than that – I am also a qualified Secondary Science teacher with an MPhys degree in Physics. It was following the completion of my Science PGCE that I made the transition into part-time tuition before ultimately assuming a full-time role.

Following my four years of study at the University of Manchester to obtain my Masters in Physics, I made the decision to transition into education as I had determined that research was ultimately not the path for me. Training to be a Science teacher after this was simultaneously one of the most difficult and yet one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done! Teaching Science requires you to teach all three Science subjects to GCSE level, even if you have only specialised in one subject at degree level. This intimidates some aspiring teachers just as it does some of our aspiring Science tutors, however they often find they are surprisingly capable when returning to these subjects later in life! I received a scholarship to complete my PGCE from the Institute of Physics (IOP), whose website and CPD events are an excellent source of ideas and resources to help those that may not be confident with teaching or tutoring Physics in particular.

One advantage that I feel that I have, given my experience in Physics and in Science education, is being able to contextualise content to make it as interesting as possible to students. This is especially valuable as a tutor because you don’t have the same access to experiments or practical demonstrations that a teacher often would to contextualise the content they are covering. If you find that students are disengaged by every speed-distance-time problem focusing on trains, why not shake things up a little – a brief explanation of what a ‘light year‘ is allows you to instead contextualise these problems with things like the distances covered by light in reaching us from different stars, which can then lead to some really interesting conclusions that students find a lot more fascinating than when a train arrives in Deansgate! The students are still exercising exactly the same skills but are also developing a deeper understanding of how to work with equations, rather than solving problems through habit. Incorporating more of what interested you in Science growing up will likely help to make Science more interesting for those with whom you work!

Another advantage of having a Science background is being able to provide tutors, as well as students where possible, with tools that they would otherwise not have, which can prove invaluable in deepening their understanding of a number of things in Science! Focusing specifically on Physics, as that is my subject of choice, I’ve found that teaching the power of dimensional analysis has helped many to bridge gaps in their understanding, particularly other tutors. Non-Physics specialists would often struggle to explain certain terms or concepts based on how they are represented in the specification, such as gravitational field strength in units of Newtons per kilogram. It is important here to acknowledge that there are seven standard units of measurement as defined by the International System of Units (SI) that we call SI base units. Teaching tutors how to take the units (i.e. the dimensions) associated with a particular quantity and reach the SI base units  for that same quantity enables them to reach the conclusion that gravitational field strength can be written as having units of metres per second squared – familiar to many as the units for acceleration. This leads us to the conclusion that gravitational field strength can be associated with an acceleration . . . due to gravity!

I have greatly enjoyed being able to utilise my skills in Science education to tutor Science effectively and to help prepare our amazing cohort of tutors to deliver more effective Science tuition. Science has played an important role in my life and I look forward to continuing to share my enthusiasm for it with as many students as I can in the future!