There is always a question of what to do with year 12 students during the so-called “additional” time after the external summer exams have finished. Commonly, colleges will start to teach year 13 content; a way of ensuring more time towards the latter part of the final year for revision and exam practice. Inevitably that “gained time” would be spent reviewing/re-teaching the year 13 modules covered during that summer period – so what’s the point? This year, however, there was another more pressing issue – the impact of teaching a reformed subject and teaching both AS and A Level students in the same class. At my college students were expected to stay in all classes for the remainder of the year (another six weeks) regardless of whether they were going to continue on with Chemistry into year 13 or not. How then to engage the students who knew that they were coming to the end of their time in Chemistry for another half term?
Choice and responsibility for students
The idea of setting a challenge with a competitive element came from the students; the idea for the practical theme came from the need to complete Practical Activity Group 12 (PAG12) for the Practical Endorsement. We wanted a more diverse range of investigations than provided and for the students to have more ownership over their investigation; the Royal Society of Chemistry’s ‘Problem Based Practical Activities’ suited this requirement perfectly. Students were given the opportunity to read through the introduction of each of the Problem Activities. They were also given the summary of practical skills that each Problem Activity included. Students worked with their lab pairs to choose a Problem Activity and were encouraged to choose an investigation that would target any gaps in their skills – this made them look though their previous PAG activities to evaluate what skills needed more work.
Students were given a six-week timetable, shown in Table 1 below, and were given the responsibility to produce their own prep requests, method and risk assessments – all to be handed in to be checked by teachers. Classes were staggered to give time for tutorials for specific Problem Activities which students were expected to come prepared for. In this way, we were hoping to give the students a glimpse of university-style learning.
Table 1 – student timetable for Practical Projects
The outcomes of this project were fascinating, giving the teachers a much better insight into the independent study skills of the cohort. It was easy to spot the group who left their presentations until the last possible moment, and (more pleasingly) the sheer determination they showed to succeed. Students thoroughly enjoyed the experience and challenge, and commented that they enjoyed “the independence” of the activity. All the activities undertaken required students to teach themselves some year 13 content and the students enjoyed the challenge of that. One pair had to teach themselves pH calculations for weak acids and did so very successfully, they commented that this had “given (them) a real confidence” about their studies and ability to transition to year 13.
The day of the presentations was an opportunity for the students to showcase their projects and their understanding. The students were quizzed by professional scientists and were praised for their understanding and delivery of their content. The day also allowed the chemistry teachers to look at the evaluation skills that the students had and consider how we could help improve them. One judge from Amgen commented that “in industry, our scientists have to be able to justify each stage of the process. If a particular chemical was used then why? If a technique was used – why?” and it was clear that the students had not been so rigorous when it came to this; clearly something to be improved on.
The overall feeling from this six-week project was so universally positive that it has now been written into the scheme of work and there is talk of including the Level 3 vocational students, as well as the other A Level sciences next year. Whatever comes, the chemistry department will continue to do this method of delivery of PAG 12 and are determined to encourage students to approach their learning in a more self-reflective way, particularly when it comes to their investigative work.
Find out more on OCR's Positive about practical webpage or email the OCR Science Subject Specialists at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nadine Malcolm - Head of Chemistry and Deputy Head of Science at Comberton Village College