But even in the UK, we hit the stumbling blocks with inovation in pratical work and John and I find they are the same reasons.
Exam Boards: Teachers will be put off implementing novel procedures if they feel they are putting their students at risk because the technique is slightly different to that written text books.
Authors and question setters: I have had one author but no question setters at a workshop. (The author says she is going include ideas) How can we suggest innovation if questions setters, steeped in chemistry in the way they were taught, sometimes 50 years ago, reign supreme and seem oblivious of modern methods? It was with great effort on our part and reluctance on theirs that we persuaded exam board people (looking at their watches) to come into our lab at CLEAPSS to see practical work in action. It is as though practical work was beneath them. Yes they were impressed in all 3 sciences. (It was rather like a Bond movie and I was C: B and P were there as well!)
Established teachers: “I thought microscale work was for the less able”. This was quoted to me 2 weeks ago by a Head of Chemistry. Yes he was surprised at what we can do. Even then, sitting teachers down to learn a technique is difficult. They are really scared of being not able to manipulate the pipette (Technician are much easier0. And there am I, approaching the awful 70th birthday, putting powder down a Pasteur pipette. I teach more technicians that teachers and they tell me that once they get one teacher on board in a school the others do follow as they see the efficiency and teaching potential. If you sense there frustration in what I write yes I want to put my body-clock back!
I have just had a wonderful week with Professor Supawan Tantayanon of Chulalongkorn University at the PACCON 2016 conference. Education in schools was a part of this conference and the Thai Chemical Society need to be applauded in its inclusion. School teachers were present (see picture, Supwan and myself are in the middle) to see what up to-date chemistry, such as green chemistry, miniaturization in equipment (NMR in a suitcase) new catalysts etc, was achieving. No longer was it about the blast furnaces and the contact process, important as they are. Superwan is a whirlwind, obtaining sponsorship and materials for teachers to expand practical work using microscale techniques.. She is hugely regarded in UNESCO and IUPAC and yet depsite working with teachers and students, she is leading her post-grad and post-doc students in research at the frontiers of chemistry. But not every country has a Superwan (spelling intended)! But we must find them.
It would be wonderful if those of us who have influence, try to engage with national chemical societies to include school education in their remit and aims as well as industry and academic research. I picked 2 African countries at random and there was no mention of education. In the Malaysia and Thailand Chemical Societies it is clearly evident. Teachers of chemistry will feel increasing cut off from mainstream chemistry if they are not included by their National Chemical Society. We are lucky in he UK with the RSC but I always feel if something goes wrong the cuts will be in educaion first.
Education is the seed to a Nation’s wealth and we see the importance placed upon it in some of the Asian countries. Intelligence is not the privilege of the rich and middle classes. It is spread over the whole population from poor to rich. I think of all the poorer children in developing countries and my own who never reach their potential. It happened to my father who passed exams to a top school in Nottingham during the 1920s, but his mother would not send him because she could not clothe him properly. So did this mental frustration contribute to mental illness later in his life? I sometimes wonder.
I met Diane Beecroft from Arizona in Canada in Chem Ed 2013 and I showed her some more experiments on my way to Mexico in 2015. She carried out a practical on my diffusing precipitates which tries to explain to students what really happens in precipitation. She wrote back to me
We just got done. When I told one of my groups of students that it was the first time I used this activity to get these particular concepts across rather than just lecturing the concepts, a student said, "Well. That’s a shame that this is the first time you did this because I really liked this and it helped me totally understand all of the concepts."
I know that two other lecturers and teachers in the States and UK have used the idea. My friend Bruce Mattson has improved the technique by the looks of it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2FA1p5KHCE&feature=youtu.be
It really means that we need to have scientific data on these techniques and not just anecdotal evidence. I have visited a few education conferences in the past few years but working with chemicals and with these novel techniques appears totally lacking when compared to psychology and pedagogy under discussion. (I hope they don’t think using chemicals is beneath them and only for the less able!) But perhaps microscale can really help in these areas of cognitive overload and questioning misconceptions in how chemistry works and it should be an area of research!