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Chemistry teachers go back to the lab

"IT was brilliant when it started to come back," says Donald Sutherland about rediscovering his university skill in using spectra. His Advanced Higher chemistry pupils will benefit since spectra have more of a place in the syllabus than in the Certificate of Sixth Year Studies.

Mr Sutherland had the run of King's Buildings laboratories in Edinburgh University to update his knowledge during the first week-long summer school for chemistry teachers, following the launch last year of a similar event for biotechnologists.

The principal organiser, Douglas Buchanan, of the university's Moray House Institute and the Higher Still Development Unit, said that the 50 participants ranged "from those who are five years out of university studies to some who are five years from retirement".

Mr Sutherland, who started teaching in 1973, is principal teacher at Deans Community High in Livingston and the chemistry member of West Lothian's curriculum support team. He will be passing on the content of the "invaluable" summer school to all the authority's chemistry PTs.

The opportunity to practise the practial activities which Advanced Higher candidates will have to undertake was especially useful. "We saw how long it can take to set up and use apparatus, and as teachers we are familiar with the apparatus. So it showed the challenge facing the pupils when they do the experiments."

Mairi Williamson, of Aberdeen Grammar, who runs a lunchtime science club, says:

"It is meant to be fun for the pupils and so I was able to pick up some ideas for activities."

Even for recently qualified teachers the Advanced Higher means working with new content and the latest ICT, hence the value of seeing demonstrations and doing practical lab work.

Mr Buchanan says that the course, which was supported by Shell Education and the Royal Society of Chemistry, is in line with the McCrone recommendations on professional development. "It offers a modest start to the updating needed by all chemistry teachers".

If it runs for three years, with 150 participants, and if it were replicated in two other universities, every secondary in Scotland could take part.

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