Reflecting on the CERG Teacher Researcher Scheme

from Jane Essex, Chair, Chemical Education Research Group

Three years ago, the Chemical Education Research Group committee were facing a crisis of direction, with static numbers of members, low engagement by our membership and a limited programme. The committee decided that chemical education research was simply too important for the committee to go into abeyance without a last ditch attempt to resurrect it. After discussions between ourselves and with Thomas Graham House staff, we decided a major change in direction was our only hope. So we looked at how we could not just connect our members with the vision of education informed by research but actively involve far more people in undertaking research and sharing it with other educationalists. From this  ‘re-branding’ came two initiatives, the very popular webinars, which brings researchers at various stages of their research career to a global audience, plus the teacher-researcher fellowships. The fellowships were established with the intention of supporting early researchers so that they might develop into the webinar contributors (or equivalent) of tomorrow.

The aim has been to support members of teaching staff in school, higher education or other educational establishment, to undertake a small-scale piece of action research on the teaching of chemistry in their work place. It is very practically focused, with a light demand for literature, and is not academically accredited. Up to £500 was offered to reimburse for out-of-pocket expenses, which this has been increased to £1000 thanks to funding from the Educational Technologies Group. The money is to cover things such as supply cover where needed or attendance at an event for dissemination of the research. Fellows receive mentoring from CERG members and other suitable people who are recruited. The mentoring turns out to be the aspect of the scheme that many Fellows have valued most highly. In the end, we have over-recruited both years, giving a total of twelve Fellows against the original target of eight. The projects have been very varied, as the list below shows and they have raised the profile of chemical educational research, plus CERG’s role in it, hugely.

  1. Evaluating ‘flipped learning’ approaches to GCSE practical work
  2. Identifying and disseminating best practice with regards to teaching Chemistry through the medium of Welsh and bilingually
  3. Using Oracy to Reduce Cognitive Load in the Laboratory
  4. Evaluation of a ‘integrated diagram’ format for practical work
  5. The effect of conducting a prior mini-experiment on achievement in Year 12 practical activity groups
  6. The impact of using Johnstone’s triangle during the Structure and Bonding module on Y12 understanding and application of key concepts to implicitly linked ideas
  7. Evaluation of the most effecting bridging work to support transition from GCSE to A level chemistry
  8. Student perceptions of support for learning in first year forensic chemistry
  9. Does introduction of mass-mole calculations earlier improve students’ eventual understanding of mole calculations?
  10. What are the barriers that prevent teachers from implementing a microscale approach in secondary chemistry teaching?
  11. Investigation of an experiment evaluation matrix resource with secondary level students
  12. What strategies and resources can we utilise to improve outcomes in Chemistry by reducing cognitive load and building confidence and resilience in girls?

The success of the initiative is a great boost to the notion of ensuring that membership organisations such as the RSC should actively involve members and seek to build capacity at all levels of membership. The success of the Teacher-Researcher Fellowship is a testimony to power of members to bring about massive and constructive change with modest resource demands.

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