Sorry, let me translate from UK “school speak” of a few years ago “why is learning about chemistry important to me”. The catch phrase “am I bovvered?” was used by an English actor Catherine Tate when she took the part of a school teenager and you can see her here in a sketch about the Periodic Table.
There is always one (usually more) like this in your class. Grrrrrrrrrr.
The Royal Society of Chemistry have recently carried out a large scale survey into the attitude of the UK General Public towards chemistry.
Readers may also like see the comments of Mark Lorch (University of Hull). Mark writes The RSC started by asking its members how they felt chemistry was perceived. Sure enough most expected a negative attitude. The fear of chemophobia (chemophobiaphobia?) was certainly commonplace. But when the RSC turned to the public the fear of chemicals didn’t materialise in anywhere near the expected levels.
I sense the “chemophobia perception” amongst chemists comes from reading newspaper reports concerning celebrities who pontificate on the dangers of chemicals about which they actually know very little. Chemists probably sensed that the general public felt the same way. Mark continues “The overwhelming message is that there is a void in the public’s perceptions of what it is we (chemists) do.”
So what does this mean for the teacher? Well it reinforces the issue in that whatever we teach there must be an “everyday life” connection. A speaker at Chem Ed 2015 called it “the Real World”, Mahaffy calls it the Human element but I think I will use the word “relevance”. When we carry out any activity in theory and practical “we should be able to relate it to some need by society”. I am still pleased to see that Salters Chemistry still functions in the UK.
So here I expand the Johnstone triangle of reasons which make chemistry a difficult subject to understand and teach to a grid of four interactions. This is why that at a function, the response to the ”What do you do?” question to the chemist results in the questioner remembering enjoying the macroscopic, knowing that some aspects of relevance is bad (oh yes, and some must be good because we are living longer) and complete misunderstanding, confusion and neutral emotion towards the symbolic representation of chemistry and the use of models to explain chemical phenomena.