Twenty First Century Chemistry

Remember making crystal gardens at school? Remember your introduction to the concept of saturated solutions by heating evaporating dishes full of salt solutions and watching the crystals form? How old were you when you did that? I’m prepared to bet that it was in the First Year, or Year 7 as they call it these days.

They still do it in Year 7 now but it also appears in Year 11 if you are using the magnificent syllabus that is Twenty First Century Science. To be precise, it is Activity 5.7 so it is not even an introductory lesson. It’s entertaining enough and probably fine for the less able kids but shouldn’t the more able be doing something a little more academic? Such as learning more about chemical equations to which a single lesson is devoted in this syllabus?

Some Year 10 students have just done Activity 1.10 which concerns grass pollen levels and features a graph showing anti-histamine prescriptions rising and falling during the year. This need not be too bad as it could be used to get the brighter kids discussing surrogate measurements.

The activity does point out that just because two variables are correlated does not mean there is a causal relationship between them – the example it gives is that of ice cream sales rising and falling at roughly the same times of year as pollen count.

This activity is useful in that it leads to a discussion of the interpretation of data. My gripe is that it is in no way chemistry, and furthermore it is included in a section on air pollution. This is nonsense. I am a hay-fever sufferer myself but there is no way I could think that pollen should be regarded as a pollutant.

The overall problem with chemistry in Twenty First Century Science is the problem with the syllabus as a whole; it is just a grab-bag of topics without any underlying theory.

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