Practical skills and literacy skills – our students need them all


The early part of this year has seen an exciting few weeks for chemistry. We finally have confirmation of four new elements – 113, 115, 117 and 118 – and period 7 is complete. How could this be achieved without researchers having developed laboratory skills throughout their education? We continually debate the value of teaching practical skills, but surely the need is obvious – so we can continue to advance our knowledge and understanding of the chemical sciences. Not only that, we also need to be able to write about our research and disseminate it to a worldwide audience. In this issue, we take a closer look at those skills students must master in addition to academic knowledge.

In the lab

A question not often asked is ‘what is a student’s view of practical work and how do they learn from it?’ David Read examines some recent findings in education research and discovers techniques the researchers propose would help students develop deeper understanding in practical lessons. We need to encourage students to think about what they are doing and ask them questions to check their understanding – engage your students and take them on a journey of discovery.

Students need to be aware that the skills and techniques they learn in the classroom are a foundation to be built on to expand knowledge and understanding of even simple elements like hydrogen.

This issue’s CPD article takes a closer look at how you can help your students develop an investigative approach in their lab work. Experiments that give fast results are invaluable for showing examples of specific reaction types. As David Everett explains, the nylon thread demonstration is a quick example of condensation polymerisation that seldom fails to engage students. He suggests a host of experiments you can use in a variety of contexts and problem-based activities.

Understanding and writing

To be successful in chemistry we also need to be able to understand and use the language of scientists. For the first of these, Katherine Haxton takes a close look at the Royal Society of Chemistry’s recent survey of the public’s perception of chemistry. She examines what the public think of scientific terminology and, in comparison, what we as scientists understand. The survey highlights important implications for teaching and learning relating to common misconceptions.

Students pursuing a career in science also need to ‘write’ in chemistry. Michael Seery explains how this can be achieved through carefully designed writing activities. In this article, he considers the differences between learning to write and writing to learn, and the activities that can be used to develop both skills. He also suggests some interesting techniques you can use when giving feedback that will save time.

Finally, Michael has the last word in Endpoint. Having helped students build their skills base, he suggests an innovative way in which students can enrich their CVs to ensure employers have an accurate picture of the skills they have acquired.

Best wishes,

Karen J Ogilvie, editor