Virtual labs to support practical skills


© ChemCollective

With the changes to the way practical chemistry is being assessed at both GCSE and A-level in England and Wales, it will be increasingly important for students to understand the reasons for using particular pieces of equipment in the lab. And with this, the ChemCollective website can help.

The site supports your teaching of practical skills with resources and virtual labs combined with tutorials and tests that allow you to select particular topics you want to focus on.

The tutorials and simulations allow you to put learning into practice. They give automatic feedback to students if they give incorrect answers to questions and give hints to help students progress in their learning.

Within virtual labs students have activities to set up practical equipment. The easy to use workbench allows students to complete titrations, make standard solutions and carry out many more protocols. And here is the major advantage of the virtual lab – students are given a choice of which equipment to use and will only get a correct answer once the experiment is set up correctly. This is helpful when teaching core practical skills for assessment.

There is however potential confusion with one of the tutorials on balancing equations. In the task students are asked to balance an equation for a reaction and given a diagram of what the reactant and product particles look like. Although the balanced equation is correct, it does not match the number of particles in the diagram aid.

As the activities are linked to topics rather than year group or level, the complexity of the topic can mean only parts of the simulation are relevant. For example, on a simulation on pH the first part asks students to match the colour of phenyl red indicator in particular solutions to their pH given a relevant scale. The second activity is to use logarithmic scales with concentrations of H3O+ ions to calculate pH, an activity more suitable for A-level students.

Although this website could be very useful in teaching practical skills, if you decide to incorporate these activities into your lessons, avoid leaving students without any additional guidance.