Expert Insights

The concept of a continuum is, I think, really important in chemistry and… what I see is that students come up with this issue of things being black or white.  They struggle with this concept of the in between stuff.

Difficulties are having to relearn something that they thought was true from school and not understanding the evolving nature of science. New knowledge is easier to assimilate than changing old knowledge.

Chemistry is a different language so I try to approach it that way by explaining the ideas behind symbols.

I use a lot of eye contact. The people in the back row are not anonymous, you know.  Make sure you’re talking to them and make sure that you see them.

Ions and ionic chemistry are essential to life and just about everything they will run across.

I like to approach chemistry as a different language, because it used symbols to convey ideas across, but they are not the reality.  When we draw a little stick structure, alcohol does not exist as I’ve just drawn it, it’s a representation.

They struggle with the language of chemistry.  So we sort of need to teach them the process and how to work out how to do these things.  We know that their tendency is just to attempt to memorise reactions.  Whereas if we can teach them to derive … find out what the nucleophile and the electrophile is then all they have to do is draw a curly arrow from the nucleophile to the electrophile, rather than trying to work out what the reaction is itself. 

I think personally the quicker the students can see that holistic approach to chemistry the better... Because that’s when they start to realise how cool it is.

Students see equations and panic. Students struggle to transfer mathematical knowledge to chemical situations. Students silo knowledge and find it hard to relate concepts to actual systems.

So, it’s helping to bed down analysis, problem solving, doing the sort of detective work to get to an answer.  And the students also seem to quite enjoy having material presented to them in that way - here’s a spectrum, what do you think the structure is, because it’s a more active form of learning as well.  So I find I enjoy teaching it, and they respond well in terms of, they keep coming in and asking me for additional problems to practise on which is clearly evidence that they feel it’s challenging them.