To maintain the resources required to feed myself as my stipend quickly runs out I have been picking up extra work going into schools to talk about chemistry. I have done shows with primary school children which have been amazing fun, and spent are fair amount of time with A level students making paracetamol and talking about university.
As well as having a great time, I have had the opportunity to speak to teachers, and it is apparent – especially in primary schools – that there is a lack of experience and background in ‘science’. A consequence of this is that teachers find it more difficult to exploit the curriculum in a fun manner, and to engage children in science in the way they want to, and as a result I am often asked suggestions of fun and educational experiments that can be done in schools.
To try to address this I have collated a couple of sites that I have come across, and as the list grows, hopefully this will become a significant resource, and a useful first point of call for teachers.
It has taken me a while to get this up for a couple of reasons. Mainly it was that I am easily distracted, and after I discovered I could not put it on youtube without an image, I put off searching for alternatives. Secondly, it did not quite go as I hoped and I was a bit annoyed with myself – maybe unfairly – but you can judge for yourselves. Anyway, by putting it off a little the annoyance has abated, and having discovered soundcloud, it is now available for all to listen.
To be honest it was not terrible, but it certainly was not what I was expecting. In reality it was never going to go to plan completely, because secretly I was planning to change the reputation of chemistry worldwide in four minutes on local radio. I had as you can see, set myself a very big challenge, but what the hell; I am a firm believer in aiming high!
My plans for a discussion on chemistry and society were out the window as soon as I arrived: the format was chemistry vs physics, which is COOLER? This is not a discussion I would typically validate because it does not not often lead to a positive outcome, but when you are faced with Andy Crane (of the broom cupboard fame) and 4 minutes to change the image of chemistry, you have to go for it.
After the Rocky theme tune introduction the gauntlet was laid down:
Why is chemistry cool?
A little bit of panic set in as I tried to validate the position of chemistry in the world, tried to put in a couple of little anecdotes, and basically not sound like a fool. It was okay, but if I had had just a touch of media training, or, had I done an internship in the House of Commons, it would have been better; I should have known to just ignore the actual question, and answer the question I wanted – that is how you do a radio interview! Anyway, as they say, que sera sera.
Last week I had my first trip to a primary school since I was eleven years old. As I still consider myself child like the vast majority of the time, the realisation that it was nearly twenty years since I had been in a building that is governed by a bell, and has a climbing frame in the hall, was a bit of a shock. No matter though, it only took me ten seconds to feel completely at home – communicating with people on my level, screaming at loud bangs, and laughing at embarrassing adults – perfect.
The reason for my trip was to observe a “Solids, Liquids and Gases” show put on by the University of Manchester. The show visits primary schools, and behind the transparent veil of learning, we blow things up (amongst other things)! I had such a good time. Cutting edge research has nothing on hydrogen fueled rockets, jet engines, CO2 powered bangers, and shattering Jelly Babies into a million pieces.
The pictures do not do it justice but here are a few anyway:
On Wednesday I have my first attempt at presenting and doing the experiments myself. I think I will be in my element – bu dum ching.
On a mildly more serious note, these shows are an amazing way of getting kids interested in science beyond an often tedious curriculum. I am sure universities nationally will run such events, so if you are a primary school teacher (and if not, please pass this on to any you know), take a punt and give them a call. You will not regret it.
For an idea of some of the experiments here are videos via neatorama.com, though without howling children the excitement isn’t quite as intense. [Note: These videos will make you want to put a grape in a microwave - DO NOT TRY THIS.]
Finally a plug for a great resource I have just found out about. The RSC NW Trust has collaborated with Catalyst and with to create a DVD of simple science experiments for primary school teachers. You can get a copy of this for FREE from www.catalyst.org.uk, just scroll to the bottom right for details. I have not seen this yet myself, so I will let you know what I think when I get my hands on a copy.
Please pass this on to anybody for whom you might think it is appropriate. Teaching science to young children well is critical to maintaining and developing an interest for the future. Think about it, was primary science education much fun?
As I have managed to sneak my way on to the radio tonight (in about ten minutes if this scheduled correctly) , I have spent the last couple of weeks thinking a lot more about the image of chemistry and how to make it more accessible. I have been marauding around the internet, hassling the online community with endless requests, and chatting to my friends (definition: people who exist in my life in three dimensions) in search of articles and videos that I can turn into blogs to demonstrate why chemistry is amazing and achieve this somewhat ambitious goal.
I have generated a nice little stash of ideas which is wonderful, but it turns out I blog far too slowly. Heed this bloggers: if you find something great, blog quickly and with no fear! Chances are if you find something amazing to post, someone else, or primarily one person (you know who you are Derek Lowe) will have found it, written about it, and quite frankly do a better job than you would have anyway.
Despite that being the case, I really love this so I am going to put the video up anyway. Please though, do go and check out Derek Lowe’s blog In the Pipeline. He is a US based medicinal chemist and a prolific blogger. He has been in the game for over 10 years, and writes about everything from cookies to drugs.
I just wanted to say a big thank you to everybody that has sent me their opinion and ideas as to why chemistry is so brilliant, and why it is so important to society. I have amassed all of the information within my brain and it seems to resemble a metaphorical electron cloud. Hopefully the probability of finding the right information at the right time is high enough to help me out tonight, though I have a nagging feeling that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle may yet play a role! [A great little historical piece on the uncertainty principle]
Special thanks to Stuart Cantrill (@stuartcantrill) over at Nature Chemistry for all his support and retweets. They make a huge difference. Also, to BBC journalist Sarah Cruddas (@sarahcruddas) who is giving chemistry a chance on the radio tonight.
So, for the final plug: Listen tonight to BBC Manchester 95.1 FM for a discussion on why chemistry is so important to society (and so amazing), yet it has such a bad public image.
Click here for a link to live online listening at approximately 5:30 pm tonight.