The Sceptical Chymist | Don’t know much about chemistry…

Published in Chemistry

I’m going to be moving house in a few days time, and the packing process is in full swing. Yesterday, as I was emptying my cupboards, I found some old notes for a talk that I gave at a local school. It was aimed at ten-year-olds, and was intended to fire them up about chemistry.

As I recall, the talk went quite well. I finished off with a few ‘kitchen chemistry’ experiments — indicators made from boiled red cabbage, acid-base reactions with vinegar and sodium bicarbonate, anything that was safe, colourful and went ‘pop’. The teachers asked the kids to write about what they’d seen, and showed me some of the reports about a week later.

I was shocked to see that almost every single report began with the words “When I found out it was a talk about science, I thought it was going to be really boring.” Fortunately, they always went on to say they actually really enjoyed it, and I was pleased to see how much they’d taken in.

Talking with the teachers, they said they weren’t surprised at the children’s initial response, as they often didn’t have time to teach some of the more fun aspects of science. This struck me as quite worrying, given recent concerns in the UK that science has fallen out of favour with university students.

So is chemistry education, especially for younger students, too restrictive? Is the situation different in other countries? And did any of you get hooked on chemistry because of an inspirational teacher?


Andrew Mitchinson (Associate Editor, Nature)

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