In school staff rooms the “Arts Teachers” claim (in a friendly way I find) that their subjects are more "Creative" because you need to express yourselves with originality. In science, they say, answers are just right and wrong. (I wish they were sometimes.) I understand what they mean but even the great painters, authors, poets, actors etc, have “stood on the shoulders of giants”, just as Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein etc have done.
Creativity is how you use techniques and discoveries made in previous generations, either in painting, poetry to explore and explain ones innermost feelings or in chemistry and electrical engineering to solve new problems. In science education, teachers need to be creative to allow students to understand the world around them, especially connections between various fields of science and engineering (and also economics). I have always stressed that teachrs should create their own schemes of work and not rely on course books. Every school, every class is different.
Some of our standard practical procedures are up to 140 years old, can be found in old text books and are repeated in updated editions. Authors may be working from home with no access to the lab and in any case, practical procedure research can be very time consuming.
Continual repetition of these procedures takes no account of the changes in curriculum, examination specifications, education management, new equipment and materials, changes in safety legislation, environmental concerns, practical activities in university chemical education and information from research in chemistry education.
Microscale chemistry procedures
The involvement of CLEAPSS
- address activities that have caused safety issues such as toxic gas release, burns, explosions, etc,
- reduce the cost of expensive equipment by an alternative design or modern materials,
- address issues raised by UK safety legislation, usually designed for industrial purposes, but legally applying to school practical work,
- speed up practical work so that classroom management is more efficient,
- be directed to clarify an aspect of chemistry which causes confusion in students (misconceptions) and
- try to reduce time and effort in preparation and waste procedures.
- they would hamper students in answering questions exam questions based on older methods,
- they are not the exam-"required" method, even though the new method is more efficeint and more successful; also there is no requirement to do the published method, practical skills are required, and
- statements about microscale procedures such as “it is not proper chemistry”, “how can you do quantitative work”, “we have the proper equipment, why change?”, “it is for poorer countries” and “how can you demonstrate microscale chemistry?”
The developed microscale experiments have been presented in CLEAPSS safety talks, workshops and at ASE conferences. Visitors to CLEAPSS are shown the techniques in our laboratory. With interest finally shown from our examination boards, the techniques have become more popular.
The enthusiasts then began to report unexpected benefits.
- Lab room management was less stressful..
- Students were more focussed and not side-tracked by other student groups.
- Mistakes were quickly and safely corrected.
- The practical sessions were completed in the time available..
- The results were visually pleasing, could be photographed and inserted into the lab book for future reference.
- The use of webcams, visualizers and USB microscope allow dramatic demonstrations.
- There was a reduction in the overload of the short-term working memory and so students were not asking “what do I do next?”
- The practical work could be focussed on addressing known misconceptions and difficult areas in chemical education.
- Completely new and interesting experiments could be developed
There is added creativity in adjusting or modifying what occurs in these countries to the chemistry required in the England GCSE and A level. SSERC (in Scotland) have also developed microscale techniques alongside those from CLEAPSS. Here are some examples.
Reactions in Puddles
A puddle of water is about 1.5cm diameter. The volume of liquid is less than 0.8cm³. The picture shows the the colours of buffers with different indicators and then combining the indicators to prepare a Universal Indicator
Displacement and precipitation reactions can be investigated. Basically, the test tube is replaced by the puddle.
Solutions can be used but it is a better teaching point to push the solid directly or introduced it on the end of damp pointed sticks,letting the solid dissolve and the solvated ions diffuse. See video below.
This resulted in a paper (and front cover) of the the May 2019 edtion of the Journal of Chemical Education.
(Bob Worley, Eric M. Villa, Jess M. Gunn & Bruce Mattson* J. Chem. Educ. 2019, 96, 5, 951-954)
Using Diffusion to Transfer Chemicals
I then generated gases in Petri dishes chemically and produced amazing diffusion halos as in the example below with ammonia molecules in the Petri dish diffusing into a puddle of 0.1M hydrochloric acid with Universal Indicator. This is followed by hydroxide ions diffusing though the liquid, neutralizing the acid. These prcedures only take a few minutes.
So it has been quite a year with the chemcial halo poster winning the RSC Twitter Poster Competition for Further Education. AS you can see in the poster, other halos are avialable.
“Where practical chemistry work is not possible in schools”
Is creativity in practical procedures, seen as a part of research in chemical education?
- The venue is not a University but a hotel (Hotel safety officer objects!).
- The venue is not in the chemistry department of the University. (University safety officer objects)
- The chemistry department is a some distance from the venue.
- Safety is run on Hazard Assessment as opposed to Risk Assessment. (Chemistry safety oficer does not understand microscale techniques)
- A University risk assessment proforma, designed for research is not applicable to this type of chemistry.
- Sorry to say but many of those who lead chemical education research from various countries are visible by their absence from practical workshops, by not taking part and not even visiting them.
- How can you see microscale? Well most venues have excellent IT facilities such as visualizers and split screens upon which the experiments can be displayed. So lecture demonstrations are possible.
- Journals demand evidence of the effectiveness of the work on students as well as a direct technical account of a new procedure. I can see that this is jumping through hoops in many cases. I prefer to let teachers see the results on Twitter and You tube. It is more immediate and effective than writing in a peer-reviewed journal, which teachers cannot easily access anyway. When teachers see these experiments or used them in workshops, light bulbs come on in their minds.