Teaching Chemistry to PGCE Physics student teachers – perspectives from alumnus Nathan White

chemFrom left to right: Nathan White (Chemistry teacher), Ellie Jones, Angus Ferraro and Rhysian Jones (Physics student teachers)

As a student teacher, life was a delicate balance between lesson planning in preparation for lessons, attending and completing university assignments and trying to fit in a social life as well.  I have always wondered, how, even with a reduced student teacher timetable how ‘normal’ teachers managed. During my PGCE at Cardiff Met, I had the privilege of having ‘real’ teachers coming in and teach lessons in a university setting to help me think about putting theory into practice. On 31st October 2016, I had the chance to be the ‘real’ teacher by returning to Cardiff Met to teach Chemistry experiments to PGCE secondary Physics student teachers.

As often is the case, learners come into lessons with misconceptions about a topic, especially in Science. It becomes the role of the Science teacher to challenge these misconceptions by experiment, whilst embedding appropriate AfL techniques to demonstrate visible progress in learning during a lesson.

It was great to be a part of the thinking process that student teachers often go through when setting out to plan a lesson. Do they have an idea of what the end product will look like? What types of learning objectives might apply to a highly practical lesson that promotes a high level of challenge but also caters for low achievers too? Having done the experiment themselves, they could see that the original success criterion they had set required change. This reinforced a few points to me. Firstly, Science teachers should really practise the experiment beforehand to identify any possible problems with the experiment before learners attempt the practical. This helps with questioning at certain points during a lesson in order to demonstrate excellence by challenging the misconceptions those learners entered the classroom with. Secondly, with them questioning whether the criterion was correct in the first place meant that they had visibly demonstrated learning during the course of a lesson. It is okay as a learner to go back and correct work as it shows learning in action. Seeing it from a university mentor’s point of view was different, but they are the same points ‘real’ teachers should be embedding into their everyday practice and is something Cardiff Met gave me a solid head start in doing from the start of my PGCE.

Having become a mentor to a PGCE student this year myself, leading a university session has provided me with focus on how to be more interdisciplinary with my feedback to student teachers. It was interesting seeing the university side again from the perspective this time as a teacher rather than a student teacher, as I got to see the thinking of student teachers about their own pedagogy and how they would approach an experiment that was not necessarily in their own scientific discipline. I believe that the very best teachers embed proven research and theory into every teaching practice and that is what all student teachers and teachers should strive for.

by Cardiff Met alumnus Nathan White (PGCE Chemistry with Science 2013-14).

Nathan is now a successful Chemistry/Science teacher at Bishop of Llandaff Church in Wales High School, Cardiff

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