Sixth form science teacher has innovative formula for digital learning

A talented teacher from a Hartlepool Sixth Form has an innovative formula for digital learning for his students during the COVID-19 crisis and is also supporting school leavers with their transition to sixth form in September.

James Donkin, who lives in Roker, has worked as a chemistry teacher at Hartlepool Sixth Form for 12 years. He is no stranger to innovation and was shortlisted for the Teacher of the Year award at the 2020 TES FE Awards.

His outstanding contribution to the education sector includes his YouTube channel, MaChemGuy, which attracts over 22,000 subscribers worldwide and helps students understand the complexities of chemistry.

His passion for chemistry, and his pioneering approach to teaching and learning, led him to creating videos in 2013 as a resource for his A-Level chemistry students to support their learning. To date, he has uploaded over 600 videos and MaChemGuy is a YouTube sensation with 22.2k subscribers and over 4.8 million views in 129 countries. He has received over 48.4k likes and thousands of positive comments from all around the world. James has calculated that the total viewing time of 268k hours equates to over 30-years of continuous chemistry teaching.

James’s ‘flip learning’ approach means that students learn a subject from his YouTube videos prior to attending their lesson so that they have already have a basic understanding of a topic. This means that James can use the lesson as a fun and interactive practical session to bring the topic to life.

Explaining how he has adapted his learning delivery during the COVID-19 crisis, James said:

“My prior use of new learning technology has made the transition to remote learning and the delivery of live online lessons relatively easy. In terms of the way I’m having to teach now, it is broadly similar to pre-lockdown, as the technology is enabling me to deliver the content as I would have at sixth form. The only difference is that I’m unable to do practical work. I do, however, have videos for all the practical techniques, which are not the same as doing them in the classroom, but better than learning about them via a textbook.

“I hadn’t used Google Meet prior to the lockdown so between lessons I have taught myself how to incorporate my iPad as a digital whiteboard, which has made the experience for the students much better. Prior to COVID-19, I used Google Classroom extensively to set work and share resources with students, however I now use it so that students can send work to me, which I can mark and return with feedback. Google Classroom really has made the transition to remote working very smooth and meant that the students feel they are not missing out.”

James said that students at Hartlepool Sixth Form have adapted well to remote learning. He continues:

“Students have said during the live video lessons that they have adapted better than they had expected and although it’s more work for them, they much prefer the way they are working to following topics via a textbook. One of my students, who said they were quite anxious at the start of all of this, has found the mix of Google Meets during which they can ask questions, videos, independent study, notes and study packs a great way to learn and has not been overwhelmed at all.”

James’s YouTube channel has also been further developed during the COVID-19 crisis to support prospective chemistry A-Level students’ transition to sixth form in September. He said:

“Prior to COVID-19, my plan was to focus on exam preparation for my year 13 students. This was to involve exam question walkthroughs, top tips etc. Now summer exams have been cancelled, I have turned my attention to year 12s and prospective students currently in year 11. Luckily most videos have now been made so it’s been quite quick to plug the small number of gaps that exist.

“For year 11 students who are thinking about studying Chemistry at A-Level, I’ve created a playlist on the channel. The hope with this is that they start the course in September with a more in-depth understanding of the fundamental topics. This has been greatly received on Twitter by hundreds of other Chemistry teachers from around the country who are promoting the playlist with their year 11 students.”

James will also be producing new videos to support a new initiative at Hartlepool Sixth Form called Get Ahead. The online project will be launched this month to year 11s who have applied to study at the sixth form in September and will help them to prepare for their studies.

Mark Hughes, Head of Hartlepool Sixth Form, said:

“We are immensely proud of James and his inspiring teaching methods. He continually pushes the boundaries to improve student outcomes. We are grateful for his technical expertise during this unprecedented time, which is benefiting both our current and prospective students.”

Hartlepool Sixth Form merged with Sunderland College in 2017 and is part of Education Partnership North East, one of the largest college groups nationally. The dynamic college group also includes Northumberland College, following its merger with Sunderland College last year.

For more information about Hartlepool Sixth Form; contact 01429 294444 or



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