The story of a teaching idea…. from Asda to outreach!

A post to support my Labsolutely Fabulous session at the Variety in Chemistry Education/Physics Higher Education conference (ViCEPHEC), 23-25th August 2017.

In October 2013 I was shopping in Asda with my then 2 year old daughter.  A wet weekend was expected so we were browsing in the craft aisle.  It was also the time of year when I happened to be teaching bonding to a number of my classes.  Browsing the aisle I came across a pack of pipe cleaners and a bag of mixed beads.


These materials were developed into a teaching activity for GCSE chemistry pupils, trialled in both my own classes and those of my colleagues in both boys’ and girls’ schools.  In this activity, physical models of Lewis structures are built.  The pipe cleaners represent the outer shell of electrons of an atom and the beads represent the electrons. The models are directly analogous to the ‘dot and cross’ diagrams which pupils have to be able to draw for their GCSE level examinations.  The physical models provide a good stimulus for discussion of misconceptions that pupils may have on the topic of bonding, including the octet rule.

The activity was presented at the 2015 Science on Stage festival in London and following my secondment to the School of Chemistry at the University of Manchester I began preparing a paper for the Journal of Chemical Education.  I presented the activity again at the ASE annual conference in January 2016 in Birmingham.  The paper in J.Chem.Ed (ACS, £ or institutional login) was finally published online in April 2016.

Aware of the limitations that publishing work behind a paywall puts on disseminating to the wider teaching audience, I worked with the examination board OCR to produce a teaching resource based on the paper.  Again I presented the activity at the ASE national conference, this time in Reading in January 2017.

This activity also makes an excellent outreach session and it is this I will be presenting in the Labsolutely Fabulous session at ViCEPHEC on Wed 23rd August.

See you there!



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