As a teacher trainer, Edwyn passes on his knowledge of – and passion for – chemistry to the next generation of teachers.
Edwyn tells us of his experiences as a primary and eartly years science teacher trainer, in his own words.
I was attracted to the sciences and maths by their logicality, and the fact that they had definite right and wrong answers – you didn't have to know lots of facts and figures but you could work them out yourself with basic principles. As for chemistry, when I was in my early teens I was fascinated by fire and wanted to know what flames were actually made of. No one could tell me (and there was no internet in those days) so I had to read chemistry books and found there was a lot more to the subject – it was all interesting so I became hooked! Fire always stayed with me as a fascination, through making my own fireworks, to my PhD, which was in flame retardants. I even learnt to juggle specifically so that I could juggle fire!
I have always enjoyed reading about the history of science and have been inspired by people who enjoyed discovery and chemistry for its own sake. Michael Faraday was a particular inspiration, especially his Chemical History of a Candle. I had a chemistry set when I was younger but if anything, that put me off; everything was too safe and it was hard to get hold of interesting reactants to develop the ideas. The main thing that inspired me was realising that it was a subject I was good at and that I found easy.
What is there not to enjoy about chemistry? Everything about it is brilliant.
I loved the smell of the chemistry labs at university (especially the organic lab). I enjoyed the fact that things could always be taken to a deeper level: for example the bonding in water molecules was covered at O-level, A-level, and during my degree, every time in greater depth with new concepts.
Teaching to teachers
I currently teach on teacher training courses covering primary school and early years science. My roles are to show how to teach science to young children and cover the background knowledge the students need in order to teach the Primary National Curriculum. However, I also endeavour to develop the students' enthusiasm for science and science teaching, and to show them that science can be interesting and fun when approached in the right way.
I always wanted to teach and specifically to teach young children. I could have chosen an education degree but opted for a degree in chemistry with the aim of following it with a PGCE in primary education. This was because I enjoyed chemistry so much at A-level I wanted to study it further.
Towards the end of my degree, I was offered the chance to study for a PhD. Given the opportunity for three more years of concentrated chemistry I couldn't turn it down - especially as the focus was fire! After the PhD I then returned to my original plan and took a PGCE in primary education. This was followed by ten years as a primary school teacher, before joining Sheffield Hallam University as a primary and early years science tutor on their Initial Teacher Training programme.
There are many enjoyable aspects of my job: I get to work in a learning environment and I’m able to teach subjects that I enjoy myself. However, the most enjoyable part is when students tell me they didn't like science at school but are now looking forward to teaching it themselves, and are determined to make sure their pupils don't find the subject boring.
Diversity in science
My first teaching job was in a catchment area containing high numbers of single parents – I was the only male member of staff and often the children appreciated a male figure in their lives. There are certainly increasing numbers of men entering primary teaching, so although it is still unbalanced, it is improving. We must be careful not to gratefully accept any men into the profession - a good female teacher is still preferable to a mediocre male teacher.
The problems facing women and other minority groups in science are down to attitudes and preconceptions. If they are encouraged to study science and shown that they can be good at the subject, then they will be prepared to advance further.
From my experience, primary school teachers are very good at this inclusive practice but sometimes face negative attitudes from the children's home life (which includes media they are exposed to outside school). Even with a commitment to avoid stereotyping, it can be hard to avoid: at my first teaching job I was the only male member of staff, and with my science background, I soon became the science coordinator in school and so the visible message was that out of all the staff, it was the man who was the scientist.
Interview by Stephen McCarthy
Images courtesy of Edwyn Anderton
Published May 2014