This has been a fantastic summer of presentations of innovative practical work. But it is spattered with frustrations and lows. When teaching in the 70s and 80s, I would grab the latest issue of School Science Review or Education in Chemistry and look through the issues for new practical ideas. I would then include them in my teaching as soon as they were relevant. Yes, being in a Nuffield frame of mind, practical work was interlocked with the theory at all levels of teaching. When we moved to GCSE, I adopted the same technique and interlaced skills testing for GCSE, (eg, observation, interpretation, exercises etc for exam classification) as well. What goes around comes around!
Frustration 1: I just get enough people to run courses in Worthing and Southampton. Nice reviews though.
High 1: To Southampton where I address over 60 teachers for 20mminutes. It has to be a dramatic but quick opening. So I do my diffusing precipitate projected onto a very large screen. There is an audible gasp as the ppt forms. Music to my ears. I close with the quick microelectrolysis of tin(II) chloride suspension showing the formation of dendritic crystals. The teachers then came to two 90-minute presentations. Applause both times when I prepare propene, burn it to show the smoky flame and the hydrogenate it to propane to compare flames and illustrate Gay-Lussac Law.
Frustration 2: “I didn’t know microscale was like this. Do you do workshops?” “Yes a month ago in Worthing and Southampton”. I contact the organisers of these workshops and yes all these teachers been notified with a connection to this website but it did not click with them.
High 2: I repeat some of the procedures with technicians in Dorset. One says “40 years as a technician and this hour was one of the best workshops I have been on.”
Low 1: I read though a practical book published for an exam course. Many hazards of chemicals quoted were incorrect, the ideas were pre 1970s. This was supposed to have been written by practising teachers and it was obvious they had not used CLEAPSS Hazcards which have been in existence since the 1980s and can be considered a quasi-legal document in risk assessment. Everything was done with huge amounts of chemicals with no consideration to waste.
(Very) High 3: To deliver a workshops in Mexico and Arizona (as you do). At the request of Diane Beecroft, I deliver a workshops to her teaching and staff and they love it. I meet the great David Katz in Tucson and she takes me on a whirlwind trip of the Grand Canyon, Sedona Hills and the desert. I handled tarantulas and snakes which are a doddle compared to riding a horse. I took Diane and her staff to an English play (“One Servant two Guvnors” which they enjoyed and the American actors did good East End accents). She is an all-action, get-up-and-go American Lady but my, what a good chemist, teacher and host.
(And another very literary) High 4: To Mexico and even more workshops for the 25 anniversary celebrations of the Mexican Centre for Microscale Chemistry with the great Jorge Ibanez and my gurus, John Bradley and Bruce Mattson (who both shamed me by climbing the Pyramid of the Sun but I was having altitude problems). John shared his frustrations with the UNESCO initiative in Africa, although it had benefited the Asian Nation more. This was illustrated by Supawan from Thailand showed how microscale techniques are being taught to countless teachers in Thailand, all funded by Dow Chemicals and with the Royal Patronage (a chemistry princess). There were lovely ideas from Angela Kohler, (whose students are presented with awards by the President of Germany) and Marie DuToit as well and brought together by Abdulassiz Al Najjar from Kuwait. My talk and workshops are also well received. I cannot say that Mexico is a beautiful city but the University was great, the technical staff so helpful, and Jorge and his team so inspiring. When you see PhD work in Chemistry and Environmental Science being driven by microscale techniques, you know there is a future to the work our little group does. Jorge, though, has the knack of seeing a piece of research as a teaching experience as well which is why I can say “he is inspiring”. There were talks on Green Chemistry as well which started lighting bulbs in my head
Frustration 3: I am reading A level scripts for safety. Why are still using dichromates for oxidising alcohols in one section and talking about green chemistry and atom economy as an aim of chemists in another section. Why not use a green reaction to oxidise the alcohols, eg Fenton’s reagent. There is much gnashing of teeth and wailing about doing practical chemistry with no direct exam testing. Personally I cannot see a problem. The perceived issue is with senior management in schools reducing lab time and technician help (money). Well bring it on, see what happens. If practical work does reduce in scope, the industrialists, universities and learned societies will create and make a fuss. We might re-invent Science Learning Centres for teachers. No one listens to teachers.
High 5: To Scotland and with the help of Chris Lloyd at SSRC, we present a workshop which again is really well received. “So how come all you Scottish teachers can come on a course on practical chemistry?” “The Scottish Government fund us. “ And you see why the Scots vote for the Scottish Nationalist Party.
High 6: Straight back to Science on Stage at the quirky Queen Mary University in the East End of London. Here is a gather of 350 teachers from the European Union (oh dear, not a liked organization in the UK). I am proud to see Stephen Ashworth, preform some experiments on stage. Proud because I taught him and he has restarted the Norfolk Science Olympiad! Lots of nice ideas from all countries plus Canada, Turkey and Switzerland. Saw microscale from Poland. Susan Hammond from Woking College presents a well-received 50 minute workshop with the odd “ohh” and “bang” experiment from me.
Low 3: “The Finnish Ambassador is here and would like to meet you”
Yes, At the opening event, ambassadors and other embassy staff came to support their teachers. There was a notable exception. There was not one member of the British Government or the Opposition parties present to congratulate the UK entries to the event.
In the absence, Wolfgang Gollub, representing the Federation of German Employers’ Associations in the Metal and Electrical Engineering Industries, gave the welcoming speech saying that inspired students come from enthusiastic and dedicated teachers. How right he is. Oh and why a German Industrialist welcoming us? Not one UK Company, revered Science Institution or other charity involved in science education supported the event. Is this the esteem science teachers are viewed by such bodies? So thank you to Queen Mary University and CLEAPSS for supporting the event and to Charlotte Thornley for coordinating the 3 day event.
Low and frustration 4: I have to cancel a course near Chester due to lack of numbers. Jane the technician, organising the course is frustrated as well. “Don’t teachers want to improve their knowledge?” Err you may say that but I cannot possibly comment.
High 7: Microscale talk and workshop at my old University, Sheffield. Some really nice comments. One teacher at the talk said "Really enjoyed Bob Worley talking about microscale chemistry. Changed my mind about it!".