Web watch with Josh Howgego


Humans love stories. Books, films, video games and even museum displays – the things people fill their leisure time with – are predicated on narrative. Yet how often do science educators use stories as a teaching tool?

According to the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science in the US, the use of case studies, that is stories, as a teaching tool is a relatively new concept in science education. Yet the method has a long history of use in the teaching of subjects such as law, business and medicine.

The Centre gives a list of reasons why chemistry teachers might wish to join their academic colleagues in embracing case study teaching. For example, the method helps students gain advanced information processing and critical thinking skills, the use of characters helps learners see ideas from different perspectives, and a good story told in a contemporary way makes the subject both engaging and relevant.

Of course if you want to try your hand at teaching through case studies, you’ll need a supply of them. Luckily, the website has a rich collection, with roughly 30 by my reckoning that are relevant to the high school chemistry teacher. There are also exercises and discussions built into each case study.

How about, for example, the case of the teacher who set his class the task of calculating the cost of a single atom in a roll of aluminium foil – and ended up being sued by his students?

By this time you might be feeling intrigued but – like any good scientist – sceptical about this idea. How, for example, does a teacher evaluate students learning after case study teaching? For more information, check out the Centre’s research portal, where they’re trying to answer this, and related, questions.