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Elementary Articles is the official blog for the RSC's Learn Chemistry – your home for chemistry education resources and activities.

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It is with great please that I am sharing with you our latest global experiment. Water - a global experiment with hydrogels.


This year’s global experiment and has been written with Key Stage 2 and 3 in mind (ages 7-14) and is focused on the water cycle and hydrogels – which are extremely hydrophilic (water-loving) long-chained polymers. Hydrogels are an important, water absorbent man-made material used in nappies and in the gel crystals used to keep plants ‘watered’.

The global experiment has three distinct experiments, all of which have been designed so they can be run without specialist equipment and on a small budget:

• Experiment 1: How much water can a hydrogel hold?

• Experiment 2: How quickly can hydrogels absorb water? Does this ever change?

• Experiment 3: An open investigation into how water can be retrieved from a hydrogel

These experiments all support pupils in exploring the question: are we wasting water by using hydrogels? All the data collected from the above experiments can be uploaded onto the global experiment website. Once uploaded, all the collated data will be available for examination and analysis. This creates the option of discussing the importance of repeating experiments, as well as the power, and flaws of gathering and making conclusions based on a significant amount of data.

Once you or your pupils have submitted data you’ll receive a certificate to mark your achievement. There is scope to extend the global experiment into other areas of the curriculum as its main question is relevant to exploring the impact humans have on the environment. You could; write letters to organisations and individuals telling them about your findings, blog about human impact on the environment and how your findings support or undermine key arguments, produce a piece of art using hydrogels, or anything else you can think of.

Join a global community in investigating hydrogels. Find out more at http://rsc.li/ge-water

Kind regards

Lee Page (Learn Chemistry Executive)
Posted by Lee Page on Feb 14, 2015 6:46 PM GMT
The global experiment project at the Royal Society of Chemistry have been getting bigger and better each year.
Thanks in the main to all of you for your participation. 

As a result we will now be committing to a new experiment each year in time for British Science Week. All older global experiments will remain open so teachers can use these with new year groups. Eventually we will build up a large suite of mass participation experiment across a range of topics.

As we launch our new expeirment: Water - a global experiment with hydrogels. I wanted to give Prof. David Evans (RSC Beijing local section and Chemistry Teacher) the final word on how he used the global experiment in Beijing to inspire you all.

Crystallising the links between parents and children in Beijing

The pressures and distractions of modern life can mean that parents—whether catching up on work emails or updating their social networking status—and their computer-game-playing children do fewer things together than used to be the case. Recently RSC Beijing Local Section joined forces with the Family Education Department of the China National Children’s Center in an effort to reverse this trend, by running Sunday morning practical chemistry classes for young children and their parents working together as a team. Naturally one of the experiments they carried out was the art of crystallisation - a global experiment. In the first session, each parent–child pair chose one of the samples (table salt, sugar, Epsom salts, potassium nitrate or alum) and measured the average mass to saturate 40 cm3 of tap water. When they compared their results with the average values for the UK given on the global experiment website, they found the values were much lower in each case—indicating just how hard Beijing tap water is (although the relatively low room temperature will also have contributed).

Then they set up their saturated solution and—with a great sense of anticipation–left it to crystallise until the next class. Since this was two weeks away, quite a few couldn’t bear the suspense and repeated the experiment with one of the other solids when they got home so that they could watch developments first hand. The next class started in great excitement as the students and their parents looked at their crop of crystals and compared them with those of other families. On the official global experiment scale of crystal size (from 8–28), the sizes of the biggest crystals were: table salt (23), sugar (25), Epsom salts (28), potassium nitrate (27) and alum (25)—a creditable all-round performance, despite the hard water!

It has been great seeing all the images in Pinterest and following the data as more people take part. The results from over 30,000 participants worldwide is just amazing.

I am looking forward to see some of the same schools and some new ones taking part in our new experiment - check it out!

Kind regards
Lee Page (Learn Chemistry, Executive)
Posted by Lee Page on Feb 14, 2015 6:10 PM GMT
Herein the second part of Peter Bank's guide to using multi-platform tools to support chemistry teaching, about using BYOD in practice. You can read part 1 here.
We'll carry on the conversation about these tools and techniques with teachers and will welcome feedback and ideas.

Using multi-platform tools to support chemistry teaching
Peter Banks
Part 2 – in practice


Do I need to be a tech wizard? (Confidence-boosting tips!)

Generally no; remember you are not teaching students to use their own devices. They should (and most likely will) be able to complete basic operations on them fairly well without the need for your instructions.
General tips:
  • Trust pupils’ knowledge of devices.
  • Don’t aim to teach them to use their phones.
  • Start simple. Try tasks which simply replace current technologies like replacing IT suites for research-based tasks first before inventing new tasks.
  • Try it out. If in doubt there are a variety of emulators online (some better than others) which will allow you to check whether tasks or websites will work on different devices, you could use:
  • When using this strategy for the first time:
    • Start small.
    • Start with a task that doesn’t rely on everyone owning a device.
    • Have a backup plan. As always, if everything fails, have a supply of worksheets and IT room booked or an alternative task.
    • Be prepared to spend a little more time than usual. On the first occasion that you do this you might need a little extra time built in to make sure that you know pupils are comfortable and have learnt everything that you want them to

Suggested activities:

  • Photograph the experiment
This gives pupils the opportunity to revise key pieces of apparatus very easily and quickly. They can also revisit results. My year 7 class took pictures of pH investigations. Year 12 found it very useful to have photos of their apparatus and products to remind themselves of their set ups for reflux and distillation.
·         Very clear reminders of previous work.
·         Pupils have a clear historical reminder of their work.
·         A great reminder for collecting info about results.
·         Photos often get ‘lost’ in a phone’s memory.
·         Using phones during practicals could create safety risks, Always add this into the risk assessment.
Get pupils to set up a folder in their photo gallery for any pictures.
Carefully encourage social media sharing. It is important that you know your class for this.
As always risk assess the practical, in particular ‘wet’ practicals might not be appropriate.
  • Research based tasks
Setting pupils a task to find out about a subject and then feeding back to a group can be very powerful. A regular one for me is setting them the task of finding out a topic.

Groups of 4-6 pupils then have to collaborate to produce a piece of information (leaflet or poster type) in a very short space of time. This promotes their team-working skills as well as online search and research skills.
·         Very speedy delivery of information.
·         Improves pupils’ search skills
·         Most pupils have an area in which they can achieve highly and can find that strength.
·         Not everyone needs their own device. Pupils without devices can be supported by those with devices or with school-based equipment.
·         Pupils sometimes don’t challenge themselves; they can rely on another person to carry out tasks.
·         Some pupils can be left not working for short periods of time if not carefully managed.
·         Difficult to manage the sites that pupils visit if pupils do not use the school’s network connection.
Supply a list of suggestions for websites, ideally these could be via an electronic communication such as email, Twitter, VLE, school or subject-based website.

Video your demo
If you are confident about your demonstration skills, pupils often enjoy filming them so they can look back at a later date.
I often find that pupils are only really interested in the explosive and visually exciting videos, which sometimes means that they ignore the chemistry behind them.
·         Provides a record of a demonstration which pupils can review at a later date.
·         Pupils might share it amongst themselves and spread their learning wider than the immediate classroom.
·         Errors and tasks which go wrong are caught on camera forever; confidence with demonstrations is required.
·         Pupils could be concentrating on filming you when they should be watching instead. Try allowing them to film a second trial once they’ve seen and experienced it properly.
·         Sharing outside the classroom may be something you don’t want to happen - have some ground rules in place.
Students can add commentary as they film. This will capture the explanations, which they can later listen to and thereby revise the content.

Great online resources

There are a large number of fantastic resources available. Particular favourites of mine include:
  • Aspirin screen experiment (Royal Society of Chemistry). I set this as a pre lab and post lab revision exercise, generally for homework. No problems from any pupil accessing on any device. (difficult on small screens but still manageable)
  • RSC Problem solving tutor (Royal Society of Chemistry). Again, no problems on any device, it is easier on devices with larger screens.
  • Open science lab (Open University). Generally works best on computers, but I have made these work on tablets and a large smartphone.
  • Learn Chemistry (Royal Society of Chemistry). Many of the Learn Chemistry resources are in pdf form, which is easily accessible from smart phones.
  • Spectraschool interactive spectra widget (Royal Society of Chemistry). You often need to select the “HTML 5 widget” option and it works very well on most modern devices. Again larger screens are useful
There are so many variations upon the themes above and a nearly infinite number of other ideas for you to explore that would fill a book if I were to suggest them all now. My personal favourites include: Google Drive, Quizlet, stop frame animations, and online assessment tools.

Whatever you do with your class, think carefully about whether you are using a strategy to enhance your pupils’ learning experience. I always enjoy discovering ways for pupils to use their mobiles and tablets and often find that they are inspired to continue learning independently outside of the classroom.

This, on its own, would be a good enough reason to give any idea a try.
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Feb 10, 2015 7:33 PM GMT
This Spring term (for Northern Hemisphere readers) we are showcasing and promoting some of the many ways chemisry teachers can enhance their teaching with tools and resources that support a flexible, multi-platform approach.

This is often described as BYOD, or 'Bring Your Own Device'. I think this is something of a misnomer, and centres attention on the hardware, rather than the myriad software tools and resources designed to be device-agnostic. To support this theme, we commissioned Peter Banks, MRSC, secretary of the Royal Society of Chemistry's Education Techniques Group, and webmaster of chemstuff, to write about applying a BYOD method to chemistry teaching. 

I'm proud to provide, below, the first of a two-part post on BYOD in chemistry teaching from Peter Banks.

Using multi-platform tools to support chemistry teaching. Part 1 - introduction.
Peter Banks

‘BYOD’ - What is it?

The interminable battle between teacher and pupil to get them to put their phone away, and not to text their mates under the table during lessons, is likely to be one which will continue forever. However, if they want to use their phones, why not harness that energy and put it to good use?

Since being asked to write this, I’ve been asking my fellow teachers about what their advice (if any) would be, when getting pupils to use their own devices. Their response is generally “don’t!” I think this is a shame.

I have found that a mobile phone can be an inspiring tool which supports engagement within lessons and encourages learning. Pupils certainly learn better when they are enjoying their learning. If they have fun using their own devices then it is a technique worth using in the classroom.

There are some real benefits to pupils bringing their own device:
  • First, the pupil will probably have a very good knowledge of how to navigate through their own apps.
  • Second, if the pupil is finding out about chemistry on their own device, they will be much more likely to find the websites again, as the device’s history will include any sites they visited whilst carrying out your task. They could even bookmark sites for use later for their own private study. Pupils with SEN often have their own accessibility packages or settings and therefore can use their own software to support their own learning further.

Potential Pitfalls

Every pupil is likely to have a different type of device: Android, laptop, Chromebook, iPhone or tablet. Everyone will have a different mobile provider, some might not have internet access and some may not be able to access various types of content or apps. These are a variety of the challenges that you might face. However, these can often be overcome for many tasks.

It is of course possible that pupils may take the opportunity to waste time or play on their mobiles, making sure that there are some ground rules usually helps. You will know your classes and where this could or won’t work. It might not be suitable to use this in every scenario, but I think it is often worth a try.

Apps are the most usual pitfall in the ‘bring your own device’ concept and can create difficulty when looking for cross platform ideas. Larger app producers (google, dropbox, quizlet etc) are very likely to have apps for most devices.

If you are looking for an app which performs a specific function (eg stop frame animation) even the less technically savvy pupils can usually search and find something which will do the job with some success. If there’s difficulty, try grouping pupils with working devices together with those who are without, or getting pupils to suggest apps.

As with any strategy it is important to use this for a specific activity which supports learning, rather than using the technology for its own sake. It is important to maintain the focus on the chemistry, avoiding teaching the use of a phone or device as far as possible. I often use a tried and tested activity and add the use of a camera phone or research based task on top.
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Feb 10, 2015 6:59 PM GMT
With thousands of resources on Learn Chemistry, it can be hard to find a resource that suits the lessons you’re teaching today. To help you to find what you’re looking for, we’re piloting a new tool which shows you our resources aligned to your curriculum. 

As teachers from around the world use Learn Chemistry, we’ve started off with curricula from a range of countries. We currently have most secondary chemistry curricula for the UK, USA, Canada and India.
Using the ‘Standards or Curriculum’ search, you can choose your curriculum and the grade or key stage that you teach. This will reveal a list of resources aligned to your curriculum. If you enter a search term, that can help narrow down your results to particular topics.
The ‘Content’ search option allows you to do the same curriculum alignment in the opposite way-select a resource and see how it links to your curriculum.
We know that the tool isn’t working perfectly yet, but we hope it’s a step in the right direction. We’re already planning some improvements to help make the tool work more seamlessly with Learn Chemistry.
If you have comments on the curriculum alignment tool, or suggestions on how we could improve it, let us know by replying to this post or emailing learn-chemistry@rsc.org.

Posted by Jenny O'Hare on Nov 20, 2014 3:51 PM GMT
As you will have seen in the latest issue of RSC News we are working on a piece of research to inform how we should communicate with the public.

We are developing this project with a leading market research company, TNS BMRB and their researchers are eager to listen to your ideas and learn from your experiences in communicating chemistry to non-chemists.

We hope you can spare few minutes to take part in this online survey and help us in this important research. Thank you.
Posted by Stephanie Musson on Oct 13, 2014 1:44 PM BST
Today marks the end of the free period of access to our online course Quantitative chemistry. We have been pleased to see lots of you making use of the course already and we’ve received some great feedback.
To coincide with the end of the free period we are launching a new online area, the ‘My record’ page, where you can see what courses you have subscribed to and track your progress. We have also introduced a certificate to be signed by your head of department, or performance manager, when you have completed all of the topics within a course. As always, we welcome your feedback on these new features.
The full price of the course is £50 for one user subscription for one year’s access. Discounts are available for teachers at a Learn Chemistry Partnership school and for our members.
Any teacher at a Learn Chemistry Partnership school will be eligible for 25% discount on our online courses. If your school is already registered, we will communicate the discount codes in the next newsletter and by email. Learn Chemistry Partnership is free to register for, and has many benefits, so if your school has not registered then visit our ‘Supporting organisations’ page to sign up now.
If you are a member of The Royal Society of Chemistry then you will be eligible for 50% discount on the courses and can apply this to your subscription in our online payment system. If you are the main contact for your teaching institution for the Learn Chemistry Partnership you can claim complimentary membership.
Posted by Stephanie Musson on Oct 1, 2014 6:06 PM BST
The aspirin screen experiment is a freely available digital resource. The interactive tool enables students to undertake an aspirin synthesis, perform recrystallisations, thin layer chromatography and modify experimental conditions to determine the effect on yield.

This interactive resource introduces students to the aspirin synthesis and coaches them through the steps needed to complete a class practical.
Many students often report that some practical classes can feel rushed with objective unclear. Teachers often report that if they remind students of practical work completed last week many will not remember the details.  Feedback on our screen experiments to date suggests it does increases student’s familiarity with the procedure and therefore save precious class time.
The synthesis of aspirin is an example of an organic chemistry experiment which is a key requirement for key stage 5 (A-Level / BTEC) across all specifications. We have targeted this experiment as the first of a new kind of educational resource to support real life practical work.
The resource is divided into four levels, each of which are estimated to take a student approximately 30 minutes to complete either as homework or as an in-class activity.


Levels 1 and 2 are ideal pre-lab activities which introduce the experiment and can be repeated by the student anytime. This unique learning opportunity is designed to make it easier for the student to take part in the classroom practical.

Levels 3 and 4 are designed as ideal post-lab activities which allow students to investigate the effects of varying the conditions and reagents in order to optimise the reaction. It is based on real experimental data and is an excellent inquiry tool for students to make guided discoveries.

Built using HTML5 the resource requires no plug-ins or installations. You will need to ensure you are using Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer 10 browsers. The product also works on touch screen devices like Android tablets using a chrome browser and iPads.

Students will need to register and log in to the resource. This means that students can save their progress, score points and collect information on their own lab book as well as earn personal badges. These features are expected to increase the likelihood of the student wanting to repeat the activities to improve their skills.

The login user numbers can be shared with teachers so that the teacher can observe completed homework and review the lab books to identify areas requiring more explanation in class. At the end of each level there is a review section for students to reflect on their progress and draw some conclusions. We expect these reviews will be shown to teachers and discussed in more depth in class.

We are currently working on a new screen experiment on the topic of titrations to be released later in 2015. We will also be opening the new screen experiment section of the experimentation hub on Learn Chemistry shortly to reflect this and other available resource from around the web.

Posted by Lee Page on Sep 24, 2014 2:08 PM BST
Supporting chemistry education is a key aim for the Royal Society of Chemistry. To make sure this aim covers all ages, we are excited by the work we are now doing to extend that support towards primary (5-11) education. 

Chemistry is not often introduced as a seperate discipline at this age range so we have taken the concious decision to support science as a wider subject. We are aiming to work with other organisations, teachers and schools in delivering new resources, materials and support tools that will result in improved science teaching and learning at the primary age range. 

This comes based off recent research which indicates children have developed aspirations towards science, and wider STEM subjects, by the age of 10 and earlier intervention and support is needed to ensure more children aspire to enter scientific careers paths after formal education ends. 

This focus on primary science is an exciting new direction for the work we do in education and will open up new audiences, along with new challenges, to promoting chemistry. We are already directly supporting groups of schools to secure a Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM) and we are investing into new resources, for primary school teachers, to support how science is taught. 

This new direction is stil at an early stage and more news about our primary science work will be posted in the future. 
Posted by Marc Neesam on Sep 15, 2014 12:38 PM BST
Do you run an after-school science club? Have you got an idea that will engage people with the chemical sciences? If so, we want to support you.

Objectives of the fund

We launched our Outreach Fund earlier this year to support advocates of chemistry to run events that provide people with an entry point into the chemical sciences. Through the projects that we fund, we want to raise awareness of the place of chemistry in people's everyday lives and develop the science communication skills of people who are already highly trained in chemistry, so that they can champion the chemical sciences , and do our outreach work for us!

Tiers of funding
We have split the fund into 3 tiers. Our small grants go up to £2,000 and enable us to fund a wide range of one off-events and novel ideas. We have already funded some brilliant projects, ranging from demonstration lectures all the way through to air shows
Our medium (£2,000 -£10,000) and large (£10,000 - £50,000) grants are for much larger programmes of activities than may span multiple years. These are yet to open, but we’re excited to see the applications that will come our way.

Application deadlines
We will be open for applications to all 3 tiers of funding on September 8 2014, with a closing date of October 31 2014. I’m happy to chat through any ideas that you may have before you submit an application, so if you want to bring a tried and tested activity to your school, or have always had a niggling idea that think you can make work, then feel free to get in touch at outreach@rsc.org.
Posted by Jonathan Wells on Aug 29, 2014 3:37 PM BST
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