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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre's online course, Teaching Practical Science: Chemistry. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 0 seconds So this year we’ve been teaching 14 year olds about exo and endothermic reactions. They’ll have done that a little bit lower down in age, but this will be the first time they really look at real life applications. So we’ve taught it as a quite practical-based topic. They’ll have a go at doing a little circuit of experiments. And then we’ve tried to link it to, well, ‘what can you think of in real life? ‘ So things like, ‘can you think of any objects you can buy that heat themselves up or things that you need to cool yourselves down?

Skip to 0 minutes and 33 seconds ’ I started teaching this topic with a little quiz about, do you think it’s better to have a hot bath or a cold bath when you’ve hurt yourself? And we’ve got on to talking about heating creams and freezing creams. And then at the end we did a little mini white board quiz about reactions like photosynthesis and just said, what do you think this is, exo, endothermic? And they really enjoyed it. I’ve also done a little quiz with the kids where they do kind of actions. They do exothermic and endothermic, get them to do a bit of a dance at the end. And they were really engaged with that, yeah.

Skip to 1 minute and 5 seconds And you could tell when they were doing it that they were all doing it in sync. So they had understood it, even quite weak abilities. I think they can think of it not as just something that they’re learning for their exam, and they can actually go well companies make these products for profit. And certainly by talking about injuries, they could see a medical application in it. And the kids that were interested in sports were really enthusiastic about that. They really wanted to know which one is better. And they were a bit disappointed that I couldn’t give them a complete answer because it’s not totally proven.

Skip to 1 minute and 34 seconds So then they all wanted to go and test whether to use heating creams or freezing creams.

Teacher's example: using context to engage students

This course will show how using practical work can be an effective way to help students understand key chemical principles and develop their practical skills such as manipulating equipment and taking measurements.

There is a lot of research which underpins how students learn through practical science, however it takes careful planning to ensure they engage properly with it. Just because students see something happen during a practical, does not mean they immediately understand the science behind it. This ‘fallacy of induction’, as discussed by Robin Millar (2004) can mean that practical activities fail to achieve what we want.

When planning any activity, it should be ‘hands-on and minds-on’. Ensure there is enough time to discuss the activity (why are we doing this activity in this way?) as well as the science (what can we see happening in the practical and why does it do that?). The discussions can also help teachers diagnose whether their students have grasped the learning intentions, and identify and tackle any misconceptions students may have.

One aspect we can influence easily is designing the activity and so ensuring that the application of the science is relevant to students. This can be a challenge, but is not impossible!

In the previous step we looked at the method for teaching electrolysis and suggested some links to applications of the chemistry in industrial processes. Whilst those examples of context relate to electrolysis, they might not relate to the everyday experiences of your students.

In this video, Imogen shares how she embedded context when teaching a different topic: exothermic and endothermic reactions. In particular, note how the context was relevant to specific students in Imogen’s class and the impact that had on their interest and questioning of the topic.

In the next step we’ll ask for your examples for electrolysis.

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This video is from the free online course:

Teaching Practical Science: Chemistry

National STEM Learning Centre