“During my undergraduate degree in chemistry, I spent a year at SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals, using computational chemistry to better understand the interaction between proteins and drug molecules,” says David.
“That led to my doctorate in structural biophysics at the University of Oxford, improving the design of kinase inhibitors using protein crystallography.
After that, I completed a postdoc at a research institute doing more drug design work before wondering what I should do with my career – should I go for the academic or industrial route? – before realising it was actually the teaching part that I enjoyed the most.”
David trained as a teacher, gaining his PGCE through Homerton College at the University of Cambridge. Working at schools around Essex and Hertfordshire, he found himself quickly climbing up the management structure, becoming Head of Chemistry in his second year and Head of Science in his fourth year.
While he was a devoted teacher, with a young family and a lot of work to do he decided to take a break from school teaching, taking up an opportunity to work at one of the major UK exam boards. Here he helped with the reform of the current GCSEs and A-levels carried out teacher training, and helped with the creation of resources.
Returning to teaching in 2017, David carried out research in his classroom on how to improve students’ learning during practical work. This led to the creation of resources that have been shared around the world, and publications in Education in Chemistry and Journal of Chemical Education. His new method of learning also earned him the 2020 Royal Society of Chemistry’s Schools Education Award.
My research gave me enough data to write and publish an article in a peer-reviewed journal that’s now out there in the teaching community. Lots of people seem to be using it, training providers are pointing new trainee teachers towards it and I’m including it in the new RSC training courses that I’m helping to develop and run.
“The Schools Education Award was for my research into developing a different way of providing practical instructions for students. Rather than just a written list of instructions and diagrams, it integrates them together, so they’re called ‘integrated instructions’. When I started producing these practicals, I posted about it on my blog and Twitter where I got great feedback from teachers, so I decided to develop it further. I did some small-scale research with my groups of students who responded well and stated that they felt more independent, able to follow the practical work themselves."
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Currently splitting his time between classroom teaching and as a chemistry adviser for CLEAPSS, David is also heavily involved with the RSC, helping with teacher training, mentoring new scholars, and writing and editing for Education in Chemistry magazine.
"When I decided to return to teaching, an opportunity to work with the RSC presented itself, and now I’m writing a new two-day training course on microscale chemistry – traditional chemistry practicals but miniaturised and simplified – which is part of the work I’ve been focusing on for the past few years.”
Microscale chemistry is another style of practical work that allows teachers to approach chemistry in an alternative way which might help students to learn better. It has the practical advantage of working in non-science classrooms, which is especially useful with the ongoing pandemic.
David’s affiliation with the Royal Society of Chemistry has continued into the classroom, where he uses RSC resources and outreach events to help teach students chemistry.
“We used ‘Spectroscopy in a Suitcase’ when that was running, and every year I take students to the analytical chemistry competition at Hertfordshire University. We also get involved with the RSC’s Global Experiments and the Chemistry Olympiad competition.”
I work with the RSC, I do training for them and they commission me to create resources and publications, so in terms of my career, I get a lot from them. I’m a chartered science teacher (CSciTeach) through the RSC and that is a significant professional recognition – it shows I want to contribute more to the wider society.
A member of the RSC since university, David says that being part of the organisation has also helped to give him a career advantage.
“There are other parts of the RSC that are important too – it’s the best place to be if you are a chemist. Membership gives me access to Chemistry World and Education in Chemistry magazine. As a chemist, Chemistry World, is important for me because it keeps me in touch with everything else that is going on in the world, and who is pushing the boundaries of science.
“At some point I will probably apply to be a Fellow because I believe in the organisation and I’d like to step up and take more of a role in how it is shaped. I’d also someday like to apply to be on the Education Division Council.”
David thinks teachers should sign up to be a member of the RSC due to the huge number of benefits that membership provides.
“I’m a joiner. I think as human beings we like societies and we like to be together. I think you always get more from being part of a community. And for teachers, it's absolutely a worthwhile organisation to be part of. The RSC provides a huge amount of support, guidance, advice, resources and so much more.”