The machine

The story

Static history

The challenge

For teachers

For reference


Priestley's Physics Project

The challenge - notes for teachers


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After taking GCSE  exams, most schools offering A levels will have a taster or induction lesson in A level study for students to take a look at courses on offer. Some schools are considering taking this further by offering a project to encourage students into post 16 study and prepare them for the different approach required at A level.  

This challenge is designed for a group of students about to start AS/A level courses in the UK. ( We hope it may be of use internationally). The challenge could be used as a 'bridging project' starting late in the summer term, using a little of the students' long vacation and concluding in the start of the new academic year.
It uses Priestley's machine and the Priestley story to bridge GCSE science and A level physics.

If students undertake this challenge they will be expected to undertake several tasks:

1. After reading Priestley's story and the static history timeline, students will be expected to undertake one of the tasks from the timeline. The following task provides a summary of the tasks


Task Title Practical activity Written/research Presentation
1 Thales Challenge  
2 Gilbert Challenge  
3 Guericke Challenge  
4 Hauksbee Challenge
5 Grey Challenge    
6 Dufay/Franklin    
7 Musschenbroek  
8 Watson Challenge  
9 Volta Challenge
10 Bennet Challenge  
11 Priestley/Coulomb  

These tasks are designed to be undertaken over the summer vacation. Students are expected to give a presentation to the group early after starting their A/AS study.

2. It is important that students maintain and develop their mathematical skills. The challenge involves using several web links to refresh their ability to solve linear equations.

3. Students will be expected to search the web for resources that may be of use to them during their study, and to share them with fellow students.

Before undertaking this project students may wish to exchange E-mail addresses or log onto the Nicenet ICA, so that they can communicate with fellow students, and help each other with the tasks in hand. The resource is completely free and is described as a:

'Free web-based learning environment for classrooms, distance learning programs and collaborative academic projects'

Further information about Nicenet can be found at

The features include:

  • Conferencing: Create your own private, threaded conferencing on topics you make for the class or opt to allow students to create their own topics.

  • Link Sharing: Share links to pertinent Internet resources sorted by topics that you or your students create.

Using this resource, students can work collaboratively on research tasks despite being separated by distance over the summer break. They can continue to share links and documents as their A level study commences.

If you are going to use this resource it is important that you become familiar with it early on. It is very important that students can log on easily for the first time. Experience shows that it is best for you to make a number of simple user names and passwords, and allow students to change their password once they are logged on.


This is a useful worksheet for pupils. It will act as a summary of the task. It can be used to keep useful URL addresses and can be used to monitor progress in the project.


pdf file


This larger file gives a more detailed description of the taks.

pdf file

word file

You may wish to use this certificate as a reward for completion of the project. 

Click here for pdf file

Lastly, if you are going to use the Van de Graaff generator as an introduction to this project, remember not to operate the generator near to a computer. See Van de Graaff Generators in the Classroom Theory, Operation & Safety,and Demonstrations.