Creative Chemists: Strategies for Teaching and Learning

Creative Chemists: Strategies for Teaching and Learning

By Simon Rees

Head of Researcher Development and Education Development

Creativity is not a word often associated with chemistry or with the sciences more generally.  We are familiar with “the Creative Arts” and can readily bring to mind works of art, books or films produced by “creative people”.  The implication is, however, without similar recognition for the phrase “the Creative Sciences”, that the sciences are not creative.

To address this bias and to promote creative teaching in chemistry, Simon Rees (Head of Researcher and Education Development, DCAD) and Doug Newton (Professor of Education, Durham University) have collaborated to produce a new book – Creative Chemists: Strategies for teaching and learning.

Published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, as part of the Advances in Chemistry Education Series, it explores the nature of creativity in chemistry and how to teach for and with creativity.  The book is intended for chemistry educators working at any level of education but will also appeal to anyone involved in science education or those interested in learning more about the links to their own subject areas.

Drawing on the research evidence and exemplified with practical examples and case studies throughout, the book reveals the nature of creativity in chemistry in multiple ways.  It explores strategies to engage more students with chemistry, recognise its relevance in their lives, and see the wide variety of skills that studying the subject can develop.

The book begins by exploring the nature of creativity in chemistry and different aspects of creative thinking such as divergent and associative thinking.  It then discusses the use of multisensory chemistry to engage students and develop conceptual understanding at the sub-microscopic level.  Including examples such as the chemists’ spice rack and using sign language to develop understanding of chemical language.

Durham University’s Oriental museum and the Beamish museum feature as case studies to illustrate how chemistry learning can be situated in different cultural contexts.  This is important to bring human interest to the subject.  The book also examines multiple representations in chemistry to promote imagination and development of individual models of chemistry in the mind.  It explores the development of different forms of the Periodic Table to illustrate and promote creative thinking.

Storytelling is central to human existence and the book discusses applying the principles of storytelling in the chemistry context.  This leads on to the development of performance, drama based activities and debate.  Using Michael Faraday as a role model, the book explores the elements of successful performance to promote creative thinking in chemistry.  This includes featuring Simon’s recreation of Faraday’s famous lectures for a modern audience.

Simon Rees as Michael Farraday

Simon Rees as Michael Faraday

Designing creative practical chemistry activities is also discussed with innovative strategies such as escape rooms and microscale chemistry. The challenges of the language of chemistry are investigated and how this can act as a barrier to learning.  Pedagogical strategies from the research literature to address the issue are explained.  The book finishes by discussing the challenges of assessing creativity in chemistry with suggested approaches.

Writing the book was motivated by Simon’s experience as a teacher.  He had encountered students who expressed concerns that chemistry did not allow them to explore and express their creative side.  Furthermore, during his time teaching chemistry with Durham University’s Foundation programme (a widening participation initiative for students without the usual qualifications for undergraduate entry), Simon recognised the importance of using creative teaching strategies to engage a diverse group of students.  Consequently, Simon decided to write this book to demonstrate how creativity is a fundamentally important part of chemistry, and how chemistry educators can emphasise creativity in their teaching.

The book is intended to stimulate conversations about creative pedagogies based on the published evidence and the experience of chemistry educators. It aims to deepen an understanding of creativity and how it applies to chemistry so that the phrase “Creative Sciences” is as widely accepted and understood as it is in the Creative Arts.

Learn more about creative chemistry with the Creative Chemists blog

Follow the Creative Chemist on Twitter: @CreativeChemis5

The book is available from the Royal Society of Chemistry