Scaffolding chemistry students' learning within the context of emerging scientific research themes through laboratory inquiry

Year: 2008

Author: Hilton, Annette, Nichols, Kim, Gitsaki, Christina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The decline in student numbers in post-compulsory secondary science education is a continuing international trend due in large part to the level of difficulty experienced by students in senior sciences, particularly the physical sciences, and the lack of relevance perceived by students to their personal or future working lives. This paper, which focuses on chemistry education, argues that the use of digital technologies and inquiry-based learning to support students’ understanding of chemistry, particularly in emerging chemical contexts is an area that merits further investigation and it presents the findings of a study that focussed on the teaching of an emerging area of scientific research – the production and properties of biomaterials. The study was conducted with two Year 11 chemistry classes (n = 22, n = 27) that completed an inquiry in which they made two different bioplastics, compared a number of their macroscopic properties, and were asked to explain them in terms of underlying structural characteristics. Students were asked to report their laboratory findings using two different text types: a standard laboratory report and a digital poster. To scaffold this process, students were provided with a range of digital and laboratory resources as well as teacher and peer interaction. A mixed methods design was employed with data collected including semi-structured interviews, surveys, and pretests and posttests that measured students’ conceptual understanding and their use of multiple representations. The data from the study suggest that learning with digital visualisation tools and writing-to-learn strategies improves students’ understanding of chemical concepts and the representations used by chemists to understand them. These results underline the importance of scaffolding students’ learning through the use of emerging digital technologies to help students to make connections between macroscopic phenomena and the underlying molecular entities and processes associated with them. Scaffolding strategies and linking learning experiences to new areas of chemistry research, such as those used in this study, also have the potential to increase both students’ motivation and interest in chemistry.