An overview of teaching spaces at Tarporley High School | In my classroom

Meet Gavin McNeill, who has been teaching for 20 years and previously worked in hydrogeochemistry. He is currently Head of Chemistry at Tarporley High School and Sixth Form College – a large comprehensive school in the heart of the Cheshire countryside – with students from a wide range of family backgrounds. Gavin teaches classes from Years 7 to 13 and he has always taught AQA: both GCSE (Separate Science and Combined Trilogy) and A-Level Chemistry.

Tell us about your school

The school is part of a multi-academy trust (MAT) called the Sandstone Trust, with just over 1000 pupils in the main school and up to 200 in the sixth. The school was built in 1958, then expanded in the 1970s to include the block where my laboratory is located. We also have Portakabin-style classrooms, which will hopefully soon be replaced by 15 teaching rooms, and a separate Sixth Form Centre.

What is your class setup?

It is very traditional in its layout as it has large old science benches in three rows so that all the students face the TV screen where I show PowerPoint slides, YouTube clips etc. When I use the whiteboard, students sometimes have to move around to see what I’m writing because it’s facing another direction. Another issue is that there are no gas taps or sinks in the middle of the room, so students have to stand on the benches along the front and back walls when working with it. Bunsen burners. It is quite difficult to monitor them all to ensure that they are working safely.

Show us your classroom and lab

Do you want to share your educational space? So email us and your preferred space or display could be listed in CIE online and in print.

What are you most proud of in your lab?

I’ve been known at school to be obsessed with the periodic table, as my lab has over 50 copies of it on the walls (along with the chemistry teacher’s usual supply of periodic table mugs, water bottle, mat mouse, lunch box, shower curtain, etc.). I don’t know if there’s a world record for this, but it’s something the staff associates with me and shows students how passionate I am about chemistry.

Many periodic tables show the elements as traditional symbols or pictures, but I created most of them myself. I take a theme – sports stars, flags, children’s TV characters, for example – then think of an example for each of the 118 elements, with the letters of the element’s symbol in its name.

My favorite wall display contains 24 periodic tables, based on subjects studied by students at Tarporley High. For example, there is a periodic table of battles for history, another with company logos for business studies, and another with colors for art. I’ve created so many that I now display a periodic table of the week, which changes “periodically”, just like our school word of the week.

I recently published a children’s picture book, Periodic Table People, where all 118 elements of the periodic table come to life, have an alliterative name, and perform an alliterative task, e.g. “Mandy Manganese manages mangoes” or “Billy Bismuth builds trash cans”. It’s for KS2 students, so when I visit local primary schools, I get them to invent and draw their own characters. I have a few examples on the wall in my lab.

With an unlimited budget, what would you add to your lab?

A school laboratory with desks, stools and a fume cupboard

I would simply get rid of the old benches and redesign the lab, perhaps with central sink/gas valve work areas where the water/gas supply drops from the ceiling. I would also move the large whiteboard next to the TV screen, to replace the small whiteboard.

What do you like in your lab?

I’m very proud of my “chem-mug-tree”, which I recently made out of a clamp rack, clamps and bosses, and which is G-fixed to the bench where I sit on the morning to prepare for the day. The mug tree displays my many chemistry-themed mugs donated by students, and it’s a stationary holder – useful for students who forget their pens.

Final thoughts?

I think it’s important to make your teaching space as interesting as possible for students, and show them how passionate you are about your subject. Obviously, many schools share teaching spaces, so the personal aspect is not always possible, but I think that each science laboratory should inspire students to learn more about the subject and possible future scientific careers. And if anyone wants to create their own periodic table, they can contact me at [email protected] to get a copy of the Excel file I use to create them.

Do you also have an impressive collection of periodic tables in your class? So why not share your photos on Twitter

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