The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Enhancing professionalism in education since 1965

Lab notes

Encouraging pupil reaction in experiment to demonstrate the big benefits of microscale lessons in science classes

Sharon McDermind, teacher of Chemistry and Science, Bellahouston Academy

Research question

Would the introduction of microscale experimental work increase pupil focus and learning?


The impact of practical work in a science lab has always been a hotly debated topic. Government-funded Science Learning Centres found 96 per cent of teachers said they faced obstacles to doing practical lessons. Various reasons were cited including lack of time due to constraints of the new curriculum, pupil behaviour and focus, and also funding issues.

I had recently attended a SSERC residential course which included a session on adapting common experiments to microscale level. I wondered if pupil focus and learning would be affected by the introduction of individual, microscale experimental work in place of usual classroom experiments.

Microscale chemistry experiments use small quantities of chemicals and simple equipment. This has the advantages of reducing costs, reducing safety hazards and allowing many experiments to be carried out which otherwise would only be a teacher demo. For example, a mini jam jar and wick can be used in place of a more expensive spirit burner.


Initially, I offered a professional learning session on the use of microscale experiments within the classroom to my colleagues in the science department and invited all staff to offer feedback. Then, over the course of four weeks, I introduced microscale level experiments to an S3 class.

I used questionnaires and anonymous feedback to gauge pupil understanding of the experimental procedures and also exit passes and questions to gauge impact on pupil learning. I also observed and kept notes on the atmosphere and level of pupil focus within the classroom.


Staff feedback was encouraging. Pupil engagement, clarity of instructions, the ability to differentiate materials easily and impact on budget were all given as positives. However, the transferability to other sciences was questioned. All pupils enjoyed the microscale experiments.

  • Pupil feedback indicated the following points:
  • Instructions were very clear and easy to follow as large quantities of substances were not being used.
  • Pupils felt included and “in charge” at all times as they were not waiting on their peers to complete sections of work.
  • All pupils were able to complete their work and be successful at some level due to the easily differentiated materials.
From my own observation it was apparent that pupils were engaged and focused during the microscale activities. Pupil learning was also increased as assessment showed an increase in scores for most pupils.

Sharon McDermid, Teacher of Chemistry/Science, Bellahouston Academy

Teaching Scotland

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