Why be a PGCE Student Teacher?

By Chris Hall @chrishall1204


contemplationWhy would you want to do a PGCE? It is often a question that gets put to me by many of my family and friends, as well as people I’ve just met, on an almost daily basis. Many people see the headlines in the newspapers and the media portrayal of the teaching career is one which may scare many potential student teachers out of teacher training. So why should people consider it?

Tutors and Mentors

Over the course of the PGCE you will assigned a university tutor who is responsible for the ‘university side’ of the course, such as delivering lectures, seminars and marking assignments. These wonderful individuals are experienced teachers in their own right and are there to support you over the year. The university tutors will also have the opportunity to come in and observe you at various points throughout the year and see the progress you have made since the previous observation.

During the time at school, a ‘mentor’ will be your point of contact at the school and will observe your lessons and from that, help you improve as a teacher. Approximately two thirds of your time spent on the PGCE course, will be within school and intertwined between these periods will be days spent at university which give you the opportunity to reflect upon your progress and practice as well as share ideas with your peers and experienced tutors. It’s safe to say the personal and professional skills you develop over the year is phenomenal!


imageAs touched upon earlier, other student teachers will play an important role in your year! The friendships and professional relationships you develop with each other is another exciting element to the course, and by supporting and helping each other, the time spent on the PGCE course will go by even faster, on a course in which the weeks already fly by! Another advantage of developing lasting friendships on the course is the sharing of good resources between each other. This will not only help build up a ‘bank of resources’ which you will find useful for your NQT year, but also help to reduce the time spent on creating resources, helping to create a better working-life balance.

The Children

The main reason why people decide to take on a career in teaching is to make a difference to the next and future generations and have the opportunity to share your passion for a subject which you love (and hopefully they students will love too!). It is safe to say that not one day of teacher training has been the same with each day offering a different combination of challenges and rewards. Some of the words students come out with are enough to make roll on the floor laughing out loud and the relationships you build with the students will ultimately determine how involved you get during your school placements.


It feels a shame to have to mention ‘survival’ on a post which is littered with positive aspects about doing a PGCE but I feel it should be done, and may give some prospective teacher trainers a few tips!

  1. Leave work at work – try to get into a habit of leaving the majority of your work at school. As a PGCE student you will be on 60-70% of an NQT timetable. This will result in you having an hour or two a day at school as well as time after school in which you can mark, plan or maybe observe a few other teachers. Get a routine, a timetable if you will of work you need to do and make sure it is manageable!image
  2. Don’t try and re-create the world! As a PGCE you are bursting with ideas about how all your lessons are going to be revolutionary in the world of teaching, however, outstanding lessons take a long time to plan and resource and the fact of the matter is you will burn out rather quickly if you have other roles to do on top of that, so as I touched upon earlier, use your peers to come up with resources together, swap them, and make your life (and your friends) lives easier!

I am writing this blog for John after the last day of my PGCE course, and write it with both sadness and excitement! It has been an emotional, tiring and rewarding year in which I have come out the other end a better teacher and a much more resilient person!

So why do a PGCE course? Because there is no other job quite like teaching!

Chemistry Practicals in the new world

There has been an interesting debate on the MyRSC  “Talk Chemistry” and twitter and various blogs which raise an important question for the RSC, for academics teaching and designing courses for Undergraduate Chemists and for schools and teachers.

There is always change – I’m only in touch with the changes to A Level Chemistry, AS Level Chemistry, and around the corner GCSE Chemistry; the profound changes over practical work.

Universities will have changed too, new techniques, scrapping old pracs, developing new skills – I am slightly guessing at this though.

So will new and young teachers in school have the skills to deliver practical work and perhaps more broadly motivate pupils as they once had or actually need in this “new world”? Can they do a good demo? Can they deliver the organic prep the new spec demands? Have they even used the kit they find in a school under financial pressure where Chemistry puts most of its capitation down a drain? Seeing some of the nonsensical practicals suggested for AS and A or at least the slightly odd quantities will teachers (old and new) know where to turn for proper advice – CLEAPSS, RSC, ASE – sure but exactly WHERE – they are busy people?
Is it time for the RSC to take a snapshot of practical work at UG level and bring together the skills developed in UG courses and design any necessary training courses for potential and actual teachers in secondary. What role “old hands” like me who should be able to help show how show a good demo ( patter and all) or point out the pitfalls.

Over my career of 34 years in comprehensive school classrooms – the magic, the mystery of Chemistry is delivered through a range of activity but practical activity caught me in school and I daresay caught you – is anyone making sure practical work isn’t sidelined to the side bench?

We know sometimes physics or biology colleagues struggle with doing some of our Chemistry practicals – probably easier and more comfortable to hit youtube – so Chemists let’s stand up and be counted and ensure whether it is assessed, sidelined by exam boards or rubbished – that we maintain experimental Chemistry at the heart of our lessons, our teaching and our future workforce of Chemists.

Meanwhile let’s see just what the score is!

Monday period 3 – Qualified Teachers – What exactly do we mean by qualified?

There has been much discussion about qualified teachers and unqualified teachers in schools. Let me start off by saying I am qualified I have a degree in chemistry from a reasonable RG University (at the start of the river Thames)  and I could probably be a Masters but I never paid my £15. I have a PGCE and I did my NPQH. So I am I qualified I think.


So does that mean I’m a good chemist? I hope so or at least I was.

Am I a good teacher? I’d like to think so.

Am I a good  headteacher?Well that remains to be seen.

  • There is a distinction between a qualification and the practice and ongoing CPD or training so I was glad to do my PGCE before I got started as a full-time teacher. However it didn’t prepare me for every eventuality. By the time I finished my first year I knew that I could survive in a classroom, I could manage behaviour and yes I could teach pupils some things if not most, but some parts of my subject I could not teach very well. In my second year I taught some things again and inevitably they were a bit better but it was in my third year where I really thought I could do with doing my PGCE again. There were some aspects of Chemistry and some children I just couldn’t manage to teach.

graduation-caps-in-airI hadn’t taught these topics or children successfully  in the first year or the second or third time and I faced up to “I really don’t think the class are going to be able to get this topic and I don’t know what to do about it” – and there was no internet, blogs or twitter.

During my NPQH I quite enjoyed the reading and research it was good to revisit and understand some proper educational research however during the whole of my time I didn’t meet a practising secondary headteacher ( save my own) only a lot of aspiring headteachers. There were aspects of headship I was worried about such as the competency regulations or managing budgets weren’t really touched upon but more than that. I was looking for some inspiration some passionate headteacher who would tell me that the job was better than the job that I was doing, a job which I thoroughly enjoyed .image

Well we aren’t strictly qualified for many things we have to do in school:

  • I have had to do pastoral work in areas that I’m a little uncertain about and whilst quite experienced now (=old) so I have seen most things but in my early days I worried about some of the sessions I had to lead on relationships/news and sone questions were bounced away.
  • Sometimes I had to cover lessons in fact I think I probably covered every subject I’m not really qualified for every subject so some of those cover lessons were not very good. My favourite cover lesson was an English lesson, I went in and the work set was carry on reading the novel. the pupils duly took out copies oftake a copy of the Wolves of Willoughby Chase. imageI sat down to do some marking I looked up all the class was staring at me, what was the matter. One boy said we don’t really read the book on our own. My next suggestion was to read around the class. “Why don’t we start with you Robert you can start reading.” Nothing happened. “OK ” I say so I started reading a little bit of the book with a view to asking them to carry time in due course – “No! Sir, you have to do all the accents.” This polite young teacher “Oh shut up and read quietly!”
  • Sometimes I’ve taught other subjects which for me includes Biology – I have no qualification in Biology. At my school (all boys ) we didn’t do O-Level Biology! Ok so I’ve read it up but it’s just not the same, I’ve no idea how important basics are in fact unsure what basics are. I’m a little better at Physics but when we had a shortage of ICT staff and I taught that I was literally two lessons ahead of my Y8 class. I have an ability to kill interest in any other subject – compared to what I genuinely feel I can do in Chemistry. It’s now 2015 and a long long time since I did my PGCE, so I do hope and so do my pupils- that I have moved on since 1981, after all I only had chalk, blackboard, and a delightful banda machine and a few textbooks – no IWB No internet, mind no data, no microchemistry and little contact with other teachers.image 2(3)
  • Sometimes I’ve spotted a gap in my lessons of a pupil’s literacy knowledge or maths skills; maybe these are not done in the other subjects  or maybe they are done badly maybe not understood or more likely finding it difficult to apply the ideas in a different room with a different teacher. I’m not a qualified mathematician but I sure can teach the Maths my way to help my Chemists. ( Something very important in the new world where we have 20% Maths in Chemistry BOO)
  • Most of my career I’ve been a “head a sixth form” and over some 20 years and many a time I’ve said to myself I think I’ve seen every scrape a post16 person gets into, then just before I finish that sentence a situation will present itself which I’ve probably never had to cope with . No qualifications help but experience, some little wisdom and a good instinct is what we rely on.

So it is more than just qualifications, but dont get me wrong  I’m a headteacher and I want qualified people – those with a subject they love and a passion for young people.

My best teachers were my Mum and Dad they had no formal qualifications and at home we had very few books or resources, I have blogged elsewhere about going to the library weekly with my Dad. So my parents fostered curiosity, integrity, discipline, character, diligence. They set high aims and ambitions – I wish I knew how. They seemed to produce a son interested in Chemistry and Science yet they had no scientific background at all. How? Well I suspect that was about partnership my parents and their attitudes and my teachers with their “expertise”. My classes at school all had 32 boys in – the same 32 every day every year but at home it was just me and Mum and Dad and their questions and interest in me. That made them very special teachers – we can all learn from people like that.

Mr Dexter at the RSC EIC 50th. School chemistry over 50 years

Mr Dexter at the RSC EIC 50th. School chemistry over 50 years


Q1 As it is obviour we cannot be prepared for every eventuality in a school, do we rely too much on “qualifications” ?

Q2 Are qualifications overrated? The most highly qualified person might not be the best teacher, let alone be able to communicate with the pupil who finds the subject very challenging.

Q3 Design the qualifications necessary for the job? – or get proper investment in CPD?

For those in a Church school

Daniel 1:3,4: Then the king ordered his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.

Hebrews 5:12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!

Proverbs 5:13 I would not obey my teachers or turn my ear to my instructors.


You might like to read other posts from my timetable of teaching – each is set out from lesson in the school week, before or after school or at the weekends, appropriate to the time of day. I have also started a  class lists or “set lists” which was to answer the questions: “why be a teacher?”or “why have other responsibilities in a school?” Shortly I am starting a new area about progress from one role or experience in teaching to another with hints and tips about successfully moving on in the job and your teaching career.

Thursday period 3 – UCAS deadline, hey maybe that can change.

ucasThere are some jobs you miss in the profession when you move on (up, sideways or down) and some you don’t. I am ambivalent about missing UCAS references. At my school sixth form tutors do references and do them spot on (pretty well) – another of the sixth form pastoral staff polish, check etc. Over the last 20 years I have done all that, and I enjoyed writing and most of all talking with students about opportunities perhaps not enjoy because some , most are very stressed. I saw it as a bit of a privilige really. So it was always good to add a calm voice, a sensible view but of course not magic wand. It was also a collosal amount of work for me, for tutors and for students and a massive pressure pot for staff, students and parents. I daresay HE might feel the same.

Even with a new job as Head I still did three references and forms this this last week. One of those was a “Please Sir do you remember me, I left years ago but… can you lastminutereference help me out?”. Soft that I am I did – just by hours!

Meanwhile in another Universe I am trying hard with subject leaders and SLT to work out how we manage the ‘dogs dinner’of a curriculum for post 16. Whilst some changes feel bad (please don’t ask I’m a Chemist, we change to new specs, new assessment and no practical assessment but at least the spec for teaching in 6 months is now approved (as of December!). Some specs change so AS does not count in the end but at least remains coteachable, some do not. I think the staff are pretty clear on their own subjects but across the piste? Mmmmm. And what they need to consider, not much chance of that because you politician types forget we aren’t sitting around waiting your latest ideas we are…teaching a generation now.

I have always been bothered to explain to our Y13 that it is harder than Y12 because it brings the sharp end of A Level , stretch and challenge, and final exam chances, but also all those big decisions. I am also convinced those decisions can motivate and if we help students get them right they can achieve well, and aim higher than they might imagine. That has been my experience. Despite this here is my suggestion after 20 years as a Head of Sixth form

  1. Get HE to decide IF they want AS or not ( I do remember working with UCAS predictions before the advent of AS – I can tell readers it isn’t easy!) Maybe it doesn’t matter, we seem to be in a new world already whereby AAA or better gets you into most subjects in most places and probably AAB – and it feels like the rest get that same offer even if we know they may not make it. [don’t scream at me about medicine and English and RG Uni and Oxbridge I know I know]. However have these decisions clear. For example
  2. Give staff time to plan their schemes understand assessment and nuances, get to exam board training and have time to talk with each other to decide the very best way to carve up teaching and learning. Consult with SLT to design a great curriculum offer. Four subjects or three; extended essays or not, and please can someone look at the funding.
  3. Halt the AS/A2 changes now. Get the new specs for all subjects sorted for start in 2016 not 2015. Do AS and let it count or do AS and don’t let it count. Teachers and learners just need the rules ( and preferably the same rules to each subject!)
  4. Be radical on HE entry. I’ve never much favoured PQA ( post qualification application) because of the motivation I mentioned above but try this:
Which way?

Which way?

  • Minimise Y12 AS exams – one paper ( maybe or maybe not cwk) whether it counts or not. Preferably forget them as we are abandoning predictions see below! [Save some time]
  • Start the end of Y13 exams ( A2 +/-AS) at start of May. This drags exams on longer in school but staff can stagger their work in terms of revising with Y11 or 12 or 13 and all that means for schools and Colleges.
  • It takes 6/7 weeks to results, replan this. These exams start May not mid June so can have results early July?
  • After Y13 complete exams maybe mid June schools and colleges start all the practicalities of UCAS PQA. We help look at courses, we have Open days visits and we prepare statements and references BUT no predictions because the button is pressed mid July when we all know results. We will do background stuff but not forcing so many decisions so early on
  • E. do not know need to think “how many will get the grade?” “how reliable is the referee?” The form arrives with grades.
  • Over the summer there can be interviews and if not the time for HE colleagues just start term a bit later for first year UG.

    Maybe a Chemist maybe an astronomer, maybe a paeleantolo Oh hang it. I can't even spell that

    Maybe a Chemist maybe an astronomer, maybe a paeleantolo Oh hang it. I can’t even spell that

I am sure readers will say what about medics etc BUT we all see many students who think they should apply for X or Y but their results make us think they may make it and it’s hard to say a definite you won’t for some. WE also see an element of immaturity at application time, uncertain ideas which is fair enough and we make some decide by October 15th. In this new world, this all evaporates, no student will apply for the AAA course with predicted AAA ( which might mean AAA or AAB ( stats show most grades predictions are correct within a grade or two overall I recall) now they apply with AAA. I can imagine many courses offering a range of grades and I suspect they could, surely they know students with AAA down to BBC do or do not cope with this course etc

As for motivation I do like my students to do some visits in Y12 – well they can do, they can visit and be inspired to aspire, they can be helped to understand the basics by which I mean to get into this course you need….. these grades/this interest/these skills. Entry profiles take on a new highly significant meaning, this is what you aim for. It might benefit a subject like mine Chemistry maybe others where Y12 still feels like we are teaching much basic stuff and some of the more interesting work comes late Autumn and Spring of Y13. As we now stand it’s a bit late for a student who having had few ideas of what to study but been badgered by home and school to decide, and now finds a real interest in Chemistry. In fact we might all have that responsibility in our Y13 work to trumpet our subjects even more with this is what HE looks like and being nearer than a present applicant we might get those choices right and get a few more young people into the right courses and see better progress in HE.

There I’ve said it

You might like to read other posts from my timetable of teaching – each is set out from lesson in the school week, before or after school or at the weekends, appropriate to the time of day. I have also started a  class lists or “set lists” which was to answer the questions: “why be a teacher?”or “why have other responsibilities in a school?” Shortly I am starting a new area about progress from one role or experience in teaching to another with hints and tips about successfully moving on in the job and your teaching career.

Some Questions:

Q1 Might this make an optimistic call over what feels like an unwealdy future for post16?

Q2 HE Univeristy Providers what do you think?

Q3 SChools and FE Colleges what do you think?

Q4 Most important, Students what do you think?



Complete University Guide

Push University Guide

Telegraph article on choosing HE

Guardian choosing University – ideas from students

Unistats support data for making informed choices

The Student room advice


For those in a Church school:

Psalm 25:5 Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.

Psalm 139:10  even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

Romans 12:6   We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

2 Timothy 1:6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you

1 Peter 4:10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Tuesday period 2 – #LoveChemistry, #LoveSalters’, Love Investigations

imageSo this post is about practical work in science, it’s not a review of the proposed changes to GCSE practical or those already in hand for A Level. It’s just my little world of practical work as a Chemistry teacher, and it is what I will be doing on Tuesday’s period 2 for a few weeks.

There are different types of practical work in science. When I used to plan on a scheme of work, we had various codes : PP pupil class practical; PD Pupils help in a demonstration.TD Teacher demonstration. AP assessed practical. I am so old that when I did my A levels we had science practical exams. In Chemistry this was usually a titration and mostly oxalate /permanganate ( ethanodioate/Manganate VII for the younger reader). We knew what to do, I had after all done one about a dozen times. We also had some analysis to do, a so called unknown and a few simple tests, flame tests and maybe some solubility tests to show this was Potassium Sulphate ( lilac flame, ppt with Barium Chloride). BUT oh how far we have come.

Let me tell you about my Yr 13 who have done practical Investigations now since 1994 and for a good few years of them I was also a moderator for Salters’ Chemistry. They have to choose their investigation, describe it including relevant chemical ideas and then plan the methods. In recent years we have had a new mark her for the difficulty and challenge of the topic, so if they choose an experiment we have done as an activity it scores low down. Modify the practical, use ideas beyond A Level and bring in a series of other skills and you might move to 4/5. Once planned we teachers have to mark the first sets of skills: planning, communicating, researching, risk assessments, references etc. The students work very hard, they score a full range of marks but maybe at the higher end of their grades. Why? Because they are A level chemists and quite good at this. However an Investigation means testing skills they don’t otherwise have

Mr Dexter at the RSC EIC 50th. School chemistry over 50 years

image Mr Dexter at the RSC EIC 50th sharing some differences between Chemistry in 1963 vs 3013 photographs from (c) Royal Society of Chemistry

So then we get going, usually three weeks of lessons and plenty of extra time. Students pop in during their free if staff allow, they come down at lunch or after school and we sometimes do a long twilight and Pizza. They start slowly in fact the first week I always wonder if they will make it but week two sees much progress and week three I see…experts! So now they have some results and observations to report ( and score) and they can analyse them (and score) and finally they do a decent job on what I usually think is the hardest area, evaluating what they have been through – scientifically evaluating that is, not a series of moans!imageBefore you say it cannot be assessed, I disagree the Salters’ mark schemes work. They work because back in the early 90’s teachers and boards worked together. They work because there were trials and developments. They work because there were good Chemistry teachers (who will remain nameless but you know who you are, ensuring marking and moderation worked.) but mostly they worked for being well designed, well thought out and because of the reactions we saw in our students ( not chemical reactions!!)
Why do I like Investigations?

  • It does feel as if this is what proper chemists and maybe research chemists actually do. A mix of researching methods, designing an investigation, carrying it out and persevering when it doesn’t quite do as it’s told.
  • We all learn lots of Chemistry, the students, the staff, the lab technicians but most of all the students. Even those who can just about understand concentration, dissolving, diluting etc get a much clearer understanding by doing it and by doing it AND being assessed.
  • The quality of work can be amazing. I recall in the early days of moderating seeing some truly wonderful investigations, given a relatively free rein it showed just what A level Chemists could do. they were ambitious, clever and often original. I even recall showing Professor David Waddington a project he diligently read it.’ What do you think?’ I hoped he would say it was ‘very interesting’ or’ innovative’, his reply: “probably worth a first”.
  • It’s one of the few bits of assessed work students enjoy. I know they also get stressed about the marks but if they plod on they usually enjoy the experience, usually do quite well and genuinely understand chemistry better.
  • They become mini experts. When we resume ‘normal work’ and revision they can teach their peers on kinetics, on errors, on calculations etc. I often turn to them ” tell us how you solved that”, explain how you worked ‘that’out.
  • It can inspire and motivate. In my day whenever did an A Level practical, let alone an assessed one, persuade me that Chemistry was exciting or innovative or frontier, though to be fair it showed me it was very useful. I have seen young people carry out their practical project and want a rethink on their HE choices. See n many of them get to grips with this fascinating subject in new ways.
  • It builds skills, all sorts from the practicalities of problem solving through to the softer skills of perseverance (though maybe if I say ‘Character building ‘ the politicians will listen). They also work on their own not in a pair or a group but independently – hey a bit like real Chemists?
  • It is perfectly assessable. Our students get a range of marks, from many 4/5 or 5/6 right down to 2 or 3/6. That’s a tribute to a good mark scheme, fairly properly applied, internally moderated and externally moderated. Practical work vital to my subject, should and can be assessed.
  • The hardest aspect back in the early days was researching ideas and practicals, it so often depended on getting the right books or articles, but what a great opportunity to raid the ASE and RSC cupboards. Now of course we can go on the internet. AND sure I know that’s why some people feel the whole of practical work can be cheating but really – have you ever met Chemicals?
  • No one gets a practice. You can’t do a four week project twice, you can’t rehearse, you can’t spend weeks researching and planning and then change your mind. It’s a good test!

imageAnd if Investigations ( let alone practical work) disappear?

I, for one , will be sad, I can’t think any other assessment building skills, showing off Chemistry, motivating and contributing to the student learning experience. ( although I do know learning for an ordinary test or exam does concentrate the mind). Maybe we can still do them, say the end of Y12 (Oh No) the skills won’t be quite so well developed and hey the AS is gone or going or something. Maybe we can do a mini project (Oh No)– you need four weeks, is there really that much spare time or are we refilled with extra content in the new world? Maybe there is after school, the Chemistry club – Oh No – how disappointing that something which should be done in lessons is reduced to ‘after school’ or ‘ in the holidays’.

If you are an examiner, assesor, moderator reading this, don’t worry we Chemistry teachers will make whatever yuou give us work, its what we do, but me, I am still allowed to mourn.

I never did an Investigation when I was at school, and it never did me any harm. I didn’t do one in my three years as an undergraduate maybe that didn’t do me any harm, but I did a part II whole year of research which I adored. That was back in the day without the resources we have now, I think I’ll just be that sad old Chemistry teacher…..”oh in my day”

My plea, please don’t throw out the baby with the waterbathimage

You might like to read other posts from my timetable of teaching – each is set out from lesson in the school week, before or after school or at the weekends, appropriate to the time of day. I have also started a  class lists or “set lists” which was to answer the questions: “why be a teacher?”or “why have other responsibilities in a school?” Shortly I am starting a new area about progress from one role or experience in teaching to another with hints and tips about successfully moving on in the job and your teaching career.


7 YBA Chemistry Teacher

In my blog yba teacher I confess to a small white lie or being economic with the truth – teaching is a great job but Chemistry teaching is the best!

[Now I know there are frustrations, problems, annoyances, SLT (hey I’m one) BUT here are my positive thoughts.]

What it is about Chemistry and teachers?  It’s a great subject to teach, though not easy (are any?) so what do I think makes our subject unique , intriguing and beguiling.

It has a great intellectual capacity and challenge. There is no doubt there is a lot to know, a lot to understand, a great deal to work out,  a challenge of how it all applies but at its most basic Chemistry is about ‘problem solving’. From the exam questions to the global problems and from the latter the history of discovery, serendipity, heroes and well a few anti-heroes too, some absolutely lifechanging discoveries and developments and some we are overwhelmingly embarrassed about. but it generates huge curiosity. One of my first ever lessons with a brand new shiny y7 and I added acid to indicator, then added alkali and as it went from red back to green a small child open-mouthed, staring from a silent audience in my lab said “bl**dy hell that’s amazing” and the whole class and me gasped, his face said it all, one of astonishment and yes we had a word about his words. but who couldn’t read about our subject and not be curious. There are patterns and themes and exceptions and rules and maths and observation and theory and practice, what could be more intriguing?

image 2(3)

For me the real highlight is that it has great stories : of discovery, of changing the world for the better, of poison and intrigue, of dedication, of enviable cleverness, of battling against the odds. Stories of people (too many to list) and materials. it has a great history, it’s involved in culture, it is …everywhere. If you are a non chemist reading this get hold of ‘Chemistry world’ from the RSC in a local library and I defy you to read two or three copies and still not agree: medicines, dyes and paints, fuel, energy, food, agriculture, materials from plastics to metals, detergents, cosmetics, …..just soooo wonderful. I might even claim the history of mankind is driven by Chemistry, you can’t fight a battle against warring invaders in a bronze age without..bronze, and you can’t fly aeroplanes to escape without Aluminium. I can only tease you here, otherwise it’s a book on the way!

image (3)

Resources: the subject has come along way in classrooms since I learnt in the 70’s from a textbook and the occasional copy of “New Scientist”. There are fantastic books and blogs, magazines and great stuff for children like the wonderful “Chemical Chaos” We have great writers like John Emsley, how could you read anything he has written without being desperate to share the story. But it creeps in elsewhere in Physics and Biology from DNA to solar panels…we are here, there everywhere –  #loveChemistry. I have taught Salters’ Chemistry since it was first piloted in the 1990’s but if you don’t teach it, get the Chemical story book and I’ll refund your money if you don’t make good use of it

People: The subject is a living one and so we study past, present and future at school and then there are graduates, PhD’s  and post docs, researchers and professors, retired Chemists who blog and write and tweet, there are Uni researchers sharing their research. Check out the RSC Learn Chemistry  and make sure your school is involved. If you are not on twitter get started, and follow the likes of…actually it’s not fair to mention a few here, there are so many keen to help and half the fun is finding them on twitter, some may even retweet this blog. In due course I might get around to listing the bloggers and tweeters. Alternatively search for #Chemistry or #lovechemistry. There are also the phenomenon that are twitter chats such as #asechat. Over my 30+ years I have had the great genuine pleasure of meeting all sorts of academics, industrialists and educators. They have always been willing to share and help and support. I’m not sure I have capitalised on this but it can be done. My school had a wonderful industrial link with Boots locally for many years when industrial visits were part of the specification – Boots were hugely helpful and my students found the visits to….essentially pipes and pots…fascinating. How? The whole visit was around solving problems in production of Ibuprofen and hey….they were good. [see ofqual there is more to teaching than assessment ut your is a critical role!]

Web based resources. In recent years we have seen a growth in resources on school websites and university websites and fantastic links to be pursued and followed. Organisations well preeminently the RSC but also the ASE. Local sections, paid staff and volunteers, publications and websites and the most wonderful CPD.There are foundations like Nuffield, organisations like CIEC, NSLC and University departments too numerous to mention, my experience is that these people are always willing to respond and support too and I’ll add in any more if you let me know any obvious one’s omitted. I have though to mention @RSC_Eic because their website and magasine has a special place in my work but it is always an inspiring read with something to make you think and something for you to try and use. stuff for students, events to take students along to and great ideas to use with them. I can’t leave this section without referring to videos ( hey we watched the Christmas lectures in my day) and of course youtube has great links. You really must store periodic table videos from the University of Nottingham in your favourites but here is my all time favourite video all the way from 1947.

Practicals: From demonstration to class practicals through to investigations. I still love demo’s, yes a few bangs and a few ‘ooh agh’ colour changes or explosions but also the finer details, demonstrating a titration properly and seeing youngsters learn and do their own, aiming for really good results. Class practicals, especially if we keep them a little open ended and coax some extra curiosity. No not those we have to use in coursework or controlled assessments, just great practicals. If you get a chance make use of local companies or Universities willing to show/use some of their big kit too. I am still scared when we start our Investigations with Y13. Perhaps ten or twelve different experiments over 3 weeks, carefully planned, executed only to find this is Chemistry and sometimes doesn’t do as it should, written up, analysed and evaluated and all that for 90 UMS, and they enjoyed it. Not sure where this is going in future Ofqual!

Making nylon

Exam questions ( well applying Chemistry) I mentioned intellectual curiosity and once pupils have learnt enough basics ( although my University tutor claimed that took 3 years as an undergraduate) we can then solve problems. I refer readers to OCR specification assessment materials, they are a major challenge as pupils look at their problem solving in a new context. All the exam boards have stuff like this. You can’t really look at solutions to an ozone crisis without understanding bond energy. You can’t look at fuel replacements without a deep knowledge of thermodynamics and despite the interest in a manufacturing process you really do need to get a good grasp of equilibrium and kinetic Chemistry. I recall one bright A Level student say to me after their exam “Sir that was really hard, you never taught us about poisoning deer” which was true, the derivation of course was Arsenic chemistry (also not taught but worked from the pattern of N and P). I love those new and different contexts and I always reckon one of these young pupils might just be able to replicate photosynthesis in a test tube one day.

Frontier stuff: Yes we can share the here and now, sure we have to cover atomic models established back at the turn of the last Century but we can look at the major modern progressive stuff too:green chemistry or clean technology, computer modelling and yes we can read about whoever won the Nobel Prizewinners in Chemistry (another brilliant website) and we can think why and what it might mean.

Chemical education research it’s not just a subject with diverse, interesting and challenging content from the worlds of Industry, academia, research, Art, culture. But we do have proper chemical educational research, and like the content it’s not just a UK tradition. if you need a starter, try this site, but do look at stuff going on in Higher Education too as much can be brought down into secondary.for example there is a lot of discussion going on about ‘flipped classrooms’ bet we can draw from that. ( oh and they might learn a bit from us too). So lots of wonder CPD and commitment, including the RSC’s latest paper on Chemistry teaching and I added a positive but challenging voice in a recent endpoint, whatever happens the commitment is there for the profession.

Rare orchid, smells of chocolate, makes the milk of cows that eat it turn blue!

Rare Swiss orchid, smells of chocolate, makes the milk of cows that eat it turn blue.

Activities  Pupils do love their practicals but we are richly blessed, we can stimulate great data analysis, we can develop and try out micro scale practicals, we can turn to molecular and computer modelling. Back in the day I tried so hard to think in 3D and I think my inability prevented my progress but then along comes molymod models and then computer graphics. This will light up the Chemical world. I have a few old OHP I drew to explain electrolysis, atoms with a bit missing (cations) and atoms with a little extra electron being picked up and I flashed these up quickly to make a video. Laughable now as we can see so many animations, we can even do ‘play’ experiments in school altering the temperature and pressure etc of complex reactions or processes.


Ah – the Element of surprise

Careers– I think Chemistry qualifications show some sort of standard even in this ever changing time. Our pupils are well served by a GCSE in Chemistry, an AS or A level and BTec’s in linked areas ( though I wish the vocationals could be sorted properly!) and of course a massive variety of degrees and linked degrees. But we chemistry teachers can get great careers too, after all these teachers are good problem solvers ( theoretical and practical) they are good communicators, they know about research principles and hopefully they are a touch eccentric and they share great good humour: need I say more! Interestingly the fantastic Chemistry teachers I have met and worked with, very often still think of their classroom lessons as the highlight, they really do #lovechemistry.

Colleagues – I work with and have always worked with great chemistry colleagues, sharing ideas, learning from each other, thinking how to improve what we do or frankly working out how to use some new spec or new assessment model to advantage. Just discussing Chemistry with another person interested in the world of Chemistry, is frequently uplifting.

Students– best bit of the job, trying to teach them, trying to help them learn, coping with their lows and highs, getting them through mocks, tests, exams, answering their questions, moving their ideas, challenging their understanding, helping them solve problems, sharing the stories, working out how to motivate this one, challenge that one and support them all. The best being when they get it, when the proverbial penny drops, when they see the bigger picture. The other reward when they enjoy chemistry, decide to choose it into y12 or y13 or HE. Especially those having chosen it as a ‘ best of a bad choice’ who find they too #love chemistry and then think of HE or employment in the world of Chemistry. Seeing them sailing off into the Chemistry sunset….or sunrise 🙂

So if you are a prospective chemist wondering about teaching at school or in HE…go for it, you won’t regret it, and if you are a Chemistry teacher in the broadest sense:

Q1 What else do you think makes it a great subject?

Q2 Are there other things professional bodies could do to help us?

Q3 What obstacles that stand in the way do we need to shift?

Q4 How else can we share our enthusiasms?