Action Research Proposal

Remodelling and modernising A’ level practical chemistry (I am looking for a group of like-minded chemistry teachers).

It is mid-August and today is going to be a lovely day. Later I will go outside and walk along the local paths with my two small children. I will literally see how, since April this year, life has exploded from the verges, fuelled by sunlight, gas and water. The voluminous plant life; itself a mixture of kinds or species, each specialising in it’s own environmental niche; supports a myriad of tiny creatures each again tied to a lifestyle that suits it’s own physiology, morphology and life cycle; and these in turn support hordes of larger creatures. On this walk I will see remnants of the summers swift (Apus apus) population and if I am really lucky a passing hobby (Falco subbuteo) or possibly even a hunting grass snake (Natrix natrix) in the ditch. How the energy from a short summer’s sun has been captured and distributed through these trophic levels beggars belief and I am always awestruck by the sheer magnificence of the life that is produced annually in temperate climes. But this walk could be almost anywhere on Earth and I would be likely to experience similar feelings. The natural world is truly wonderful and on certain days it touches an aesthetic chord somewhere inside.

However this description provides a thin strand threaded through a much wider narrative and does not really touch the complexity of the systems involved. It would take a multitude of well thought out experiments to adequately, scientifically describe on all levels, what I had observed in my afternoon stroll.

For a modern research chemist, all too often constrained by what makes a potential commercial opportunity, aesthetic appreciation of the described is all that is practical, with some idea of what lies beneath the surface. But in knowing this it becomes apparent that the potential in science still is and will remain enormous for many generations at least. The magnitude of what we know is tiny compared to that yet to be discovered, on an individual basis and in the body of recorded knowledge available.

Modern chemistry projects into a rich set of topics as well as into every aspect of the stroll I have described. It is an elegant and wonderful subject in which a limited number of relatively simple models have very wide ranging descriptive power. Chemists can make very real contributions to environmental sciences, material science, engineering, biology, biochemistry, medicine, physics, geology, and archaeology to name a few and could be expected to apply modern themes like high throughput, combinatorial methodologies, miniaturisation, new and improved analytical and detection methodologies, cheminformatics, computers, modelling and synthetic methodology.

As teachers how do we reconcile the state of modern chemistry with the A’ Level specification we are working to? I have recently been reading the AQA new A’ Level Chemistry Specification and associated materials and in this there is a fantastic opportunity within the practical aspects of the new course to modernise and re-model practical A’ Level Chemistry.

Towards these ends I am currently looking for a set of A’ level Chemistry teachers who will with me, design and introduce a set of experiments (see here for an example devised for AS/A Level Biology) into their curriculum incorporating all that is required from the latest A’ Level specification and as much as possible, a foundation in some of the more modern ways of looking at chemistry problems. It is my intention to write this up as a paper in J. Chem. Ed. or CERP and to make the resources developed freely available to all. As a contributor you will be named on the paper and on any materials produced. You should speak to your manager and get any time given to this project deducted from any CPD requirements (30 hrs/PA). If as a group of teachers we decide not to make these materials freely available then there would have to be some kind of future agreement made regarding their commercial exploitation.

If for example a departmental head would like me to work with his chemistry staff to help modernise A’ Level Chemistry then consultancy fees will be applicable.

If this project interests you please feel free to email me at gerard@exscience.co.uk

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