Learning from Chemistry practicals

Posted on 09th October 2018

In an article for the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Education in Chemistry website, Bedales Head of Sciences Emily Seeber explains how she has adapted chemistry practical work to help her A level students toward a deeper theoretical understanding and better learning.

The demise of the assessed practical for A level has required teachers of Chemistry to think about how best to teach practical work, with the focus on practical skills within written exams requiring students to have a deep understanding of the underlying chemistry as well the practical.

Emily says: “I have been developing a practical curriculum with students’ understanding of practical method and links to theory at its heart. The approach is completely different to the way we used to prepare students for assessed practicals. Under that system, designing practicals as similar as possible to the ‘real thing’ meant students could simply repeat themselves under timed conditions. This, however, lacks emphasis on understanding.”

The resulting practical course, taught to 6.2 students over a new weekly double period, focuses on learning rather than performance. In so doing, Emily has dispensed with materials provided by exam boards, and placed the burden of effort instead onto the shoulders of students.

The new curriculum is built around three key principles: balancing content and practical skill with a range of activities, adapting practicals to link observations and ideas, and making students do the difficult bits. To these ends, Emily advocates practical work beyond the requirement of the curriculum, adapting practical sheets provided by exam boards so that students can better link experimental observations to their theoretical understanding, and getting students to do the thinking teachers usually do before a lesson.

Emily concludes: “When I plan practical work for students, I deprive students of the opportunity – yes, the opportunity – of doing that for themselves.”

The full article can be read on the Royal Society of Chemistry Education in Chemistry website here.

Education in Chemistry | Emily Seeber | Bedales Chemistry