Two of the best

29th December 2000 at 00:00
Chris Prior, joint winner of this year's Salters Prize for Teaching Chemistry, remembers "one lesson when I was still teaching Year 9. We started with a blast furnace, went on to discuss lime and ended up in a discussion of what happens when you die and whether people become limestone". It is inventiveness like this that made a class at Bede sixth-form college in Teeside nominate Mrs Prior for the award. Kevin Smith, in his second year of chemistry A-level, describes Mrs Prior as "a great, strange personality, not just a teacher but an interactive person who makes you understand".

Chris Prior has been teaching for 10 years, the last two at Bede. She is a keen fan of the Salters A-level. "It's fun and it's relevant," she says, citing its "drip-feed approach, always connecting students to the real world." In 1996 the students' project devising a way to take poisonous nitrates out of drinking water went on from the British Association national competition to win the international Deiton Award, sponsored by the German Bundesbank. Mrs Prior gains great satisfaction from this as well as from A-level results, from 80 per cent of students going on to science-related higher education and from links made locally with industry. Her greatest reward is seeing students have the confidence to keep asking "why?". But perhaps best of all "was when Kevin came and told me the students wanted to nominate me for best science teacher."

Rob King is joint prize-winner. ead of chemistry at independent boys' school Radley College, he has taught science for the past 14 years. Teaching his "very bright, easily bored" pupils depends, he says, on "bringing in everyday situations", for instance, teaching the concept of Gibbs Free Energy by relating it to a profit and loss account: you have to pay your debts before you can use capital. "It's very important to see life as they see it," he says. "And boys like money, of course, so you can use that."

As well as running science clubs, rocket-launching clubs and an explosives club, Mr King has taught sport, art, physics and maths. Teaching skills, depending on enthusiasm and empathy, are also transferable up to a point, he feels. "Everyone has something important to say," he stresses. "I don't like telling kids they are wrong." The most important lesson, though, for his pupils is: "Don't take anything for granted, keep asking why until you have a good enough understanding."

The Salters' Prize for the Teaching of Chemistry offers pound;5,000 for the winner and pound;5,000 for their school. This year, 12 out of the 40 entrants were visited and seven interviewed. Christine Prior of Bede College, Teeside and Rob King of Radley College, Buckinghamshire, each received pound;3,000 with pound;3,000 for each school.

Victoria Neumark For details on how to enter next year, contact Dr Dorothy Atkinson, Salters' Institute of Industrial Chemistry, Salters' Hall, Fore Street, London EC2Y 5DE


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