Imagine you’re a first-year chemistry student. What does your semester of General Chemistry look like? Well, it’s usually heavily content driven – after all, there’s a lot of theoretical science to learn. The fundamentals of molecular science is a long list of concepts, and while we teach our students at the molecular level, they also need a whole-picture understanding to contextualise their studies.
Without a certain level of connectivity, the fundamentals of their chemistry experience in the lab can feel completely disconnected to the world beyond the lab. Dr Gwen Lawrie, Professor of Chemistry and researcher in chemistry education at the University of Queensland, is keeping a keen eye on how students transfer learnings into complex systems. To Dr Lawrie, a key aspect of STEM education is the opportunity to help students see how they can make a difference in the world.
Dr Lawrie reminds us, “Chemistry students often don’t feel they have agency in big world issues, like climate change.” When most students are driven by the aspiration to make a difference, what can we do to ensure they can understand the bigger picture?