Teaching chemistry – Ideas based on research
Thursday, August 22, 2019
It is all too easy for teachers, and particularly experienced teachers at that, to assume that their individual effectiveness is now ‘proven’, and that there was little that can be learned that is not already known. But there has been some highly insightful, thoughtful and impactful modern research that could, and should, interest all teachers whatever the level or experience.
One important area of research has been carried out by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), and their guidance report draws on the best evidence available regarding science teaching at Key Stages 3 and 4. The primary source of evidence was based on work carried out by Southampton University and began with a consultation involving teachers, academics, and other experts.
The findings from the research and their recommendations are structured into 7 key areas:
- Preconceptions – building on ideas that pupils bring into the classroom
- Self-regulation – help learners direct their own learning
- Modelling – using models to support understanding
- Memory – support learners to retain and retrieve knowledge
- Practical work – using practical work purposefully and as a part of a learning sequence
- Language of Science – develop scientific vocabulary and support learners to read and write about science
- Feedback – using structured feedback to enable student thinking to evolve
This blog concentrates on three aspects of this report that pertain to science and chemistry teaching and the design and structure of PG Online's lesson resources.
Experimental work is a key aspect of the work as science teachers, as it develops practical skills in our students, but more importantly, develops a sound and deep understanding and appreciation of science and how it evolves as a subject.
Practical work should have a purpose and fit snuggly into the learning process taking place in lessons. It is all too easy to carry out a practical task without giving it too much thought and even carry out tasks in which the students already know the results and likely outcomes beforehand. The report states that we should be perfectly clear about our purposes for choosing a particular activity in terms of the development of learning. Open-ended activities should be used that offer scope for students to explore different ways of answering a particular question, or solving a scientific problem. They should have freedom to explore their own learning and ideas of science, and to discover that ideas that do work are just as valid as those that do not.
Data from experimental work may be expected. It may be unexpected. Students should be able to process this data and formulate conclusions, with a confidence dictated by the reliability of the available evidence.
These topic slides ask students to consider forming a conclusion based on ‘real’ results, and another set of data that yields an unexpected result.
Lesson slides taken from Unit 5 Topic 1 and Unit 10, Topic 2
Many students find the sciences challenging, and some of this challenge is based on the rather counter-intuitive nature of science.
Why counter-intuitive? Students have a host of experiences gained throughout their lives that appear to make sense to them. Students will confidently make predictions and state claims based on these life experiences. However, some scientific concepts do not ‘resonate’ with ordinary life experiences. However, a good teacher will know how to challenge these misunderstandings – by conducting a practical exercise that may raise a question that students did not expect, and then have to modify their thinking; or by asking pertinent and well thought-through questions that, again, produce surprising outcomes. Again, students will need to re-assess their apparent understanding.
The key skill, or talent, the teacher must possess is the ability to ask the right question, and to encourage students to do the same. Success in science, as all teachers know, is often about asking the right question.
These topic slides are written using an experienced teacher’s knowledge of some common misconceptions.
Lesson slides taken from Unit 5 Topic 1 and 2
Skilful teachers have always been able to inspire students in science and to encourage them to pursue and enjoy the sciences to a higher level. A skill these teachers have is the ability to inspire through the use of an analogy or model.
One of the most pleasant sounds a teacher hears in their classroom (other than the end of lesson bell) is the ‘ahhh’ sound made by students who now understand a particular concept, and it is often the use of a model or well thought-through analogy that enables teachers to do this. One of the huge pleasures and rewards experienced by teachers is using some of their own analogies (based on personal experiences) to help students understand - the more complex the topic, the more analogies are normally employed! However, students should also appreciate the limitations of, in particular, any models being used. It is key for students to appreciate, not only, the complexities of the ‘real’ science, but how our human experiences and representations of scientific ideas can often be limited.
These topic slides show how various models are used to help understand complex scientific situations, together with asking pertinent questions relating to the limitations of such models.
Often, well thought-through imagery is used to make a complex situation more engaging for all learners.
Lesson slides taken from Unit 3 Topic 1 and Unit 7, Topic 6
The remaining four areas covered in the EEF research report are well worth reading about too. Many experienced teachers will feel that they are already familiar with many of the findings from the report (resonating with the earlier observation regarding teaching experience), but it may be the case that teachers discover some surprising aspects of the EEF team findings. It is certainly food for thought.
It is our desire for self-improvement that makes us more effective communicators as science teachers, and of course, directly benefits our students.
Do explore the summary poster of the report, which is to be found at:
The full report is to be found at:
PG Online Science team