#talksci the meaning of ‘independent’ and other musings on #ASEConf Reading 2017

Last year (2016) in Birmingham was my first involvement in the ASE conference for a good long while and whilst contributing to it was hugely positive experience and I met lots of really interesting people I went away from it with some disquiet. I very much got the feeling that the focus was on exams, getting kids through exams, teaching to the spec and manoevering through a shifting landscape. Sessions by exam boards were very, very busy, sessions by teachers relatively quiet. I’m happy to say that this year in Reading we seem to have moved on from that.

The location of the conference meant I was around for less time than I would have liked and with being committed to 3h in the schools exhibition along with other meeting commitments I didn’t get chance to see as much as I would have liked but here are my thoughts on what I did experience.

Schools exhibition-more of this please! Having been a Science on Stage delegate in 2015 it felt like the ASE conference is beginning to capture some of the SonS magic with their schools exhibition. It’s relaxed and friendly and is very much by school teachers for school teachers. With a 3h slot it is not particularly time sensitive, you don’t have to be in a particular place at a particular time to access it, it can be slotted in between sessions. It’s also quite personalised, you can take away just what you need from it instead of turning up to a 30min session and finding only 10mins is relevant to what you need.

I was exhibiting my crafty covalent bonding project from SonS 2015. It is an innovative teaching approach and activity for a real bread and butter topic of chemistry. Something that I (and colleagues) use year in, year out. I also presented it at ASE in 2016.  This work has now been published the work in the Journal of Chemical Education, a peer reviewed American Chemical Society journal.
A Cost-Effective Physical Modeling Exercise To Develop Students’ Understanding of Covalent Bonding Kristy L. Turner*
Bolton School Boys’ Division, Chorley New Road, Bolton, BL1 4PA, U.K.
School of Chemistry, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, U.K.
J. Chem. Educ., 2016, 93 (6), pp 1073–1080
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.5b00981

I have developed a classroom resource for OCR based on this and this was being promoted at the conference with OCR giving out goodie boxes containing a starter kit in their stand.

#talksci independent research projects (debate 4pm Thurs, chaired by Prof. David Read, Univ. Southampton)

This was the only session I managed to participate in fully and proved to be an interesting debate despite a rather one sided question and panel line up. Mostly we all agreed that research projects were a good thing. The most important take home message was that the definition of an independent project varies a great deal between educators. Those of us with experience of doing PhD research know that true independence is incredibly rare, there is always an expert guiding the course of the research. These differing opinions on the nature of independence really matter at points of transition. Scale is also an interesting consideration. Generally people were considering big, extra projects that students undertake and quite rightly, Catherine Smith highlighted that if we left the independence issue aside then research projects are often easily integrated into the curriculum (eg, rates of reaction in chemistry). Aside from this it was interesting to here from a Head of Science at a science focused UTC, speaking from a position of privilege where students get 1-1.5 days a week to pursue research projects. Given that the UTC was also based within the knowledge triangle it had enviable industry and academic partnerships, unfortunately most schools exist in a very different environment!


As always the really positive aspect of the conference was the people. I am someone who really values a personal connection and having so many like minded people in the same place meant I managed to catch up with people who I often only correspond with electronically. I also caught up with people who I do see face to face quite often and on this occasion it was good to explore some of the peripheries of what we do rather than be stuck to an agenda like we usually are. Teaching is a human occupation, face to face interactions are our most valuable asset.

Here’s to Liverpool 2018!



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