How to start a chemistry club
Starting out

Experience suggests that you shouldn't be too ambitious at the outset.

Start off with a small group of kindred spirits rather than the whole year group and nurture them to make them feel special. Others will soon want to join when they see what they're missing.

It's vital to enlist the help of your lab technician from the start. Senior students and trainee teachers can be another source of ideas as well as an extra pair of hands.

It is probably best to start with fairly easy, colourful practicals to engage interest and only graduate to longer challenges once your pupils are totally hooked.

Most schools run their chemistry clubs at lunchtimes, but it is possible to hold them after school as well.


I started a chemistry club - one teacher’s experience

My first school was a large, sleepy 11-18 comprehensive in the West Country. I had a very supportive Head of Department who let me get on with things and was always very encouraging. The sixth formers were a lively bunch and it was with them that I had my first positive experiences of extra-curricular chemistry. We won the BAYS ‘Egg Race’ heat and got through to the National Final. I remember having a memorable day in London and meeting the Education Secretary.

Our fame spread back in school when we hit the local papers. It had a very big impact on the really awkward Year 9 class (age 13-14) that I taught. They demanded to know why they couldn't do things like that. So we set up in opposition to the Choir, the Orchestra, the Rugby and Origami practices during lunchtime. I have enjoyed many hours of extra-curricular fun chemistry since then.

Over the years I have learnt about the pitfalls that can set you back and offer here ten tips that the teacher toying with the idea of setting up a club might find helpful.

  • First and foremost I would advise you to DO IT, GO AHEAD and SET IT UP. You will see the pupils in a different light and they will get so much out of the experience.
     
  • DO NOT LISTEN to the crusty, cynical teacher in the department. Most departments have at least one who says things like ... ‘You don't get paid to do this sort of thing ...’ You cannot measure in financial terms the pleasure you will get out of seeing your worst nightmare pupils actually doing what you ask and enjoying their time in the lab.
     
  • Check out the idea with your Head of Department. Most will be supportive and even offer to help you. Some may already be running a club and welcome some fresh ideas.
     
  • The support of technicians is essential. Wherever possible encourage them to help you. Take them with you when you go out on trips or competitions. Give them a share of the glory the chemistry club brings!
     
  • Avoid using the years supply of copper sulphate in the first week. This will serve to confirm the crusty cynics view. Better still, try to buy some of your own for the chemistry club. A grovelling letter to the Head, or parents or local chemical industry or supermarket often comes up trumps. If you participate in a Salters’ Festival of Chemistry your school will receive a grant of £50, payable at the Festival, which could be used to help resource the club.
     
  • If you do manage to get donations or a grant, open an account for your club. Your meagre resources will be swallowed up by the science department budget if you are not careful.
     
  • Photocopy the resources you need and laminate them or put them into plastic wallets so that you can re-use them.
     
  • Put the activities in trays with the written instructions you have copied. If you have to go and find everything every week you may not be able to face the lunchtime before half term and then lethargy may spread into the next weeks.
     
  • Find a spot in the prep room or in your lab which can be your Chemistry Club Corner. It is much easier to manage if you have everything on hand each week and pupils are more likely to tidy up efficiently if they know where things go.
     
  • Always think about safety. Consider the risks involved, ranging from handling slightly out of the ordinary materials to taking pupils on trips out of school.
     
  • Above all, enjoy the experience!

For further information on The Salters' Institute's Activities, including Salters' Festivals of Chemistry and Salters' Chemistry Camps, please view the web site at www.saltersinstitute.co.uk

Copyright Salters' Chemistry Club 2005
Copyright is waived for teachers wishing to print parts of this handbook for educational purposes.