Summers End

The air around Keele has been distinctly Autumnal of late, and in between heavy rain, it’s quite clear that summer is done. Hopefully we’ll get an Indian summer for those last few rays of hope before the season properly turns.

It’s been a funny summer and quite busy. I’ve had work experience students, summer students, spent a week at the Chamboree making slime, done quite a bit of other outreach and am only now heading off on holiday. What I haven’t done is made any significant dent in the teaching prep for the coming semester (or made sufficient headway into the admin to-do list). In some ways I’m not entirely sure of what I have done with my time but in other moments I recall something that took up quite a bit of it. I also got a new kitchen, went to Cornwall for about 40 hours and did other home stuff.

The end of August brings the Variety in Chemistry Education/Physics Higher Education conference (VICEPHEC). This is the 5th year I’ve come to this conference and it is a highlight of the year. I sit here in Durham, after the first day but before the conference dinner. We’ve had a fantastic and thought provoking keynote lecture from Professor Simon Lancaster on the nature of lectures, engagement and peer instruction. Dr Kristy Taylor lead an informative workshop on A-level chemistry that saw us performing A-level practical work and getting in a little bit of a snit over the value of TLC. Other talks have involved PeerWise, assessing laboratories and ways of convincing students that engaging with feedback is important. I especially enjoyed Dr Barry Ryan’s talk on information literacy – he’s using some really creative assessments that sound like they would be fun to do. He also admitted to be a magpie at conferences, collecting sparkly ideas and assimilating them into his practice – I loved that notion.

As I haven’t quite started my teaching prep yet, it’s possible that some of the ideas I’ve heard today will make it in there. Usually I’m a bit frustrated after day 1 because I’ve already sorted out the assignments and lectures and I don’t want to re-do them. Then I forget by the following year what I intended. So what two things will I take from today?

  1. Time to get better engagement in lectures and encourage more learning ‘there and then’ rather than presenting stuff to be memorised at a later point.

  2. The lab safety quiz should include more on lab hygiene and not just focus on procedural safety stuff. ¬†Probably need to include more ‘read this then answer questions’ bits.

There will probably more thoughts on this as I process things from today.