Good communication unlocks understanding


Recently I have noticed how the awareness of language plays an important role in chemistry teaching and learning. In our last issue, Tom Husband gave us an insight into the challenges of teaching students who don’t have English as their first language. In this issue we look more closely at how the use of language influences how students understand complex concepts.

Choosing words carefully

In the CPD article, Morag Easson focuses on the often confusing language used when teaching acid–base chemistry, which can give rise to the perception that this is a tricky topic. Even neutralisation can be a difficult concept to understand if not explained carefully, never mind the logarithmic scale used to measure pH. Morag offers a range of activities to help your students fully understand concepts such as neutral and weak/strong – with the aid of some Lego.

Language was only one element to consider when working on a project for UK universities to deliver chemistry degree programmes to students in China, as Julie Hyde and colleagues found out. These students not only need to learn and understand colloquial English, they also have to meet the challenges of understanding scientific terminology, health and safety procedures and a westernised teaching style. These UK degree courses are highly prized in China, seen as giving graduate students a huge advantage in the employment and training market.

In tune with chemistry

A language you might not think of as being linked to chemistry education is music. Surprisingly, Peter Banks explains how music and musical ability can help students better understand chemistry. Who would have thought that music would help students to understand reactivity? Peter believes we should incorporate more art into our science teaching.

Careful use of language is of course implicit in developing good communication skills. This is essential both for teachers and students, especially as students equip themselves with the toolkit they need to be successful in the workplace. David Smith explains how a programme delivered across the undergraduate chemistry course at York is designed to create the ‘perfect’ employable graduate. In his version of Bloom’s taxonomy, he considers the importance of oral communication and critical thinking skills (among others), underpinned by a strong understanding of fundamental chemistry.

A smooth transition

Earlier on in a student’s education, teachers can help prepare students for the transition from school to university. Kristy Turner gives some examples of how small changes to processes at school can better emulate the university environment, so students leave school ready to cope with the change.

... and finally

For those interested to find out more about recent research into language and the teaching and learning of chemistry, this is the theme of the current issue of Chemistry Education Research and Practice.

Best wishes,
Karen J Ogilvie, editor