Where students love learning by doing, and industry principles enhance lessons

A science teacher in her school lab

Source: © Kristy Jose

Rosie finds the smart board (and pen) really helpful when teaching curly arrows

Meet Rosie Maguire, who teaches at Truro College in Cornwall. She teaches 16–18 students across a range of courses: A-level chemistry, T-levels and BTEC Nationals. Rosie used to work in industry, for AstraZeneca, before completing a degree in analytical chemistry in 2009. She later completed a teacher training year and then, in 2014, Rosie qualified as a teacher and got her job as a chemistry lecturer at Truro College, where she’s been teaching for eight years.

Truro College was founded in 1993, replacing Truro Sixth Form College. A decision was made to merge Truro College with Penwith College, which took place in 2008. Truro & Penwith College is a tertiary and further education college, located on the outskirts of the Cornish city of Truro. It was the first tertiary college to be awarded ‘outstanding’ status by Ofsted, and also the first to retain this outstanding rating. At the end of the 2020 academic year, the college enrolled approximately 10,200 students.

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What’s your lab set-up like?

I think it’s really well designed. The students can sit at their benches and face the front during theory lessons and then, depending on what practical we are completing, they can work at their benches or move around the lab.

A school lab

Source: © Kristy Jose

There’s plenty of space at benches for Rosie to demonstrate techniques

I also love how modern it is, as I know some labs can be quite dated. It’s kitted out to accommodate the students when they need to complete a large number of different practicals, which is great. We average a practical a week on our A-level course, and the students love learning by doing. We complete a whole range of practicals from titrations, where we teach the students to use the equipment with precision and accuracy, to quick-fit glassware, where we extract limonene out of orange rind and then go onto produce benzoic acid (which we then purify and test the melting point of to assess how analytical we have been throughout the production). All our labs are equipped with a fume hood, so we can safely carry out organic testing. The students really enjoy this, especially when we provide them with unknown compounds to identify.

And one thing that makes my classroom unique is that it stands alone behind all our other labs, so it’s a bit of a secret lab. The students like that.

We have a massive periodic table, which always helps if I forget any of the more obscure elemental atomic numbers

What’s your favourite part of your teaching space?

I like the big desk at the front. And the smart board, although it took a bit of getting used to. Now I’m confident with it, I can do all sorts of things on it! So, when I’m teaching the different mechanisms, for example, I can just pick up the pen and draw on the different steps and curly arrows, rather than having to click through the slide show. At the front, next to the smart board, we have a massive, colourful periodic table, which always helps if I forget any of the more obscure elemental atomic numbers.

A teacher demonstrates an experiment with a bunsen burner to her students

Source: © Kristy Jos

Rosie’s students relish the opportunity to identify unknown compounds during practicals

With an unlimited budget, what would you add to your classroom?

I would buy some analytical instrumentation, such as an IR spectrometer, or something for high-performance liquid chromatography, or a mass spectrometer perhaps. As an analytical chemist, these are the instruments I used in industry, and it would be great to give the students a deeper understanding of analytical chemistry from industry. I often discuss it with them, but it would be great to give them an in-depth look at how these instruments work.

How has your industry experience influenced your classroom practice?

Our lab has been designed to be really efficient – it’s great! So we don’t have to spend ages searching for things; they all have their place and are well labelled. When I worked for AstraZeneca we applied ‘The Toyota Way’, applying the principles to organise our work area so that we always have everything to hand. We’ve found that this works really well in a lab. It saves us time, and being efficient allows more time for doing what we really love: teaching and demonstrations.