The wow factor

27th February 2009 at 00:00

Professor Adrian Smith suggests "we need more explosions in schools" ("Top civil servant tears into key school policies", TES, February 13). I have been teaching chemistry since 1982, and I quite agree.

Some experiments that I used to do in the 1980s are no longer allowed (the distillation of real crude oil with a class of mixed-ability 12-year-olds was, in retrospect, not a sensible activity, although they thoroughly enjoyed it). Plenty of excellent experiments are still available. The problem is not health and safety, although that provides a convenient excuse. It stems from a lack of confidence among people teaching chemistry.

Putting on dramatic demonstrations can be very time consuming. They have to be rehearsed, you are reliant on technical support and if your background is in biology or physics, they can be scary. However, they are what children remember.

The responsibility lies with experienced chemistry teachers and PGCE tutors to encourage new teachers and non-specialists to develop a repertoire of wow experiments.

Kris Stutchbury, Chemistry teacher, Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge, and Open University PGCE subject leader for science.

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