How my trips to Iceland have enhanced my tutoring


August 29, 2018

Following his trips to Iceland every summer, Chemistry tutor Andrew M has been able to imbue his lessons with fantastic examples and anecdotes from his time there.  Here, Andrew recounts his trips, discusses how it has benefited his tutoring, and, most importantly, shows how he has used his experience in Iceland to engage students:

Students perform better at subjects they enjoy and have a genuine interest in. That is a well-known fact. However, one subject in particular does seem to have a problem stoking the imagination of its students: Science.

“Why are we studying this?”

“What relevance does this have for me?”

“This is boring!”

These are all questions science teachers dread to hear. Classroom teachers can often turn to the classic classroom demonstration:  alkali metals in a water bath to watch it fizz and pop, ester synthesis to smell the fruity aroma.  Students want to see science, touch it, hold it their hands! From personal experience, these demos do make a difference…for some.  But what can the science home tutor do to spark an interest in the subject?

Iceland, the global science class room

3 years ago, I took a summer job leading large groups of students on scientific tours around Iceland.  As well as exploring all 4 corners of this mystical land, I have had the honour of meeting the president of Iceland, NASA scientists and even Barack Obama’s Chief Science Advisor, Harvard physicist John P. Holdren.

Nature really has had a field day with the so called ‘land of fire and ice’. The science behind its awe-inspiring landscapes has provided the perfect educational resource to rouse an interest from my home tuition students.   Therefore, a quick anecdote, a video clip or even a basalt rock sample to supplement the curriculum teaching really does work wonders!

Engaging students through experiences

For example, take climate change.  This is such a hot topic but seems to be taught in an unnecessarily dry way.  The greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide, rising global temperatures – you can just imagine a student flicking to the next page of the textbook and yawning. However, show them a clip you took of a gigantic glacier melting in front of your eyes, the roar as a huge chunk of brilliant blue ice tears away and crashes into the sea, and the questions will come flooding in:

Why is that happening? How big is the largest glacier, why is the ice blue?”

To answer these questions the tutor must talk of hydrogen bonding, ideal gas laws, the vibration of molecules and refraction.

By the way did you know Iceland, a country just outside the arctic circle, grows all its own coffee, bananas and tomatoes?” Cue the explanation of green houses and geothermic activity.

Linking in topics

In essence, we are covering a lot of GCSE content, and dare I say, enjoying doing so! I could go on and on about the Northern Lights, geothermal power stations, bubbling sulphur mud pots, exploding geysers, tectonic plates…the list is endless. But all of these can be linked to what the student has learned in class and give context to otherwise abstract concepts.

I once took a sample of the ash produced by the infamous 2010 volcanic eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull to a student who hated science with a passion. As soon as I explained what this strange dark power was, his eyes lit up. “This is the stuff that stopped all the planes?” he asked. That lesson we covered kinetic, thermal and mechanical energy. That same student magically seemed to lose his hatred for science and even persuaded his parents to take a short family holiday to Reykjavik.

There has been quite a lot of talk recently about the decline in the studying of science by young people. For me, the solution is simple: take them to Iceland! Let them see science, touch it, taste it and smell it!

Andrew M is one of our top Chemistry tutors on Tutorfair. An experienced tutor and teacher, in the summer he also leads science-based tutors around Iceland. You can find out more about him and contact him by visiting his Tutorfair profile.