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What Makes an Effective Science Teacher?

With trainee chemistry teacher numbers rising, and university chemistry departments re-opening, "what makes an effective science [and, presumably, chemistry] teacher?" is a question worth trying to answer. 

On 19th March the SCORE annual conference will attempt to do exactly that
, by exploring "...the characteristics of an effective teacher in the sciences...".

There are further details about SCORE's conference on Ellen Weavers' Talk Chemistry post, which got me thinking about my own experiences with good (and bad) science and maths teachers. On an intellectual level, the subject appeals to my interests in brain science, and the various philosophies of language, mind, and science; on a personal level, I'd like to know why I had more fun in some classes rather than others.

I was keen on the sciences in primary school and was lucky enough to have access to laboratories, bunsen burners, and primary teachers for whom science wasn't something that ended at O-Level. But it was my GCSE and A-Level teachers who solidified this interest.

Messrs Atkins, Weaver, Morelle, and Szydlo brought biology and chemistry alive. They did so not with beautifully-constructed diagrams or presentations, but with ideas.

Bill Atkins taught us about the greatest, and simplest, idea in life sciences - evolution; Dr Weaver sent me away with JBS Haldane's On Being the Right Size; Dr Morelle told us about Kekule's dream; and Dr Szydlo wove histories of the polish alchemists into explosive demonstrations.

All four taught their subjects as if they were reading aloud from the most incredible adventure story. If they didn't feel lucky to know these things, they certainly made it seem like they did. They owned the science, and it owned their imaginations in turn. That was truly infectious.

So, returning to what makes an effective science teacher, I'm inclined to think that competence, intelligence, and enthusiasm are certainly necessary conditions, but they aren't sufficient. Your subject has to excite you and challenge you.

Just as good writers are encouraged to show, not tell, so good teachers are able to show the science, and not just tell it.

Thanks to Ellen Weavers for the tip-off.
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Dec 23, 2011 12:04 PM Europe/London

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