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The Problems of Chemistry and Science Teaching in Spain

Antonio Jesús Torres Gil

Colegio Santo Tomás de Villanueva, CECE (Spain)

ajtorresgil@agustinosgranada.es

Abstract

In recent years, we have observed students´ low motivation towards science subjects, while we have been proving the need for scientific literacy in our society. This is reflected in the reduced number of students enrolled in science and the negative view they have on this issue. The solutions provided by experts and teachers include an increasing number of contextualization of science subjects through experimentation and inclusion of ICT in teaching and learning processes.

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Comments about this Paper

Your comments are welcome


Date: 2014.09.28

Posted by I. García (Spain)

Message: This paper shows that there is a decline of students’ motivation and interest towards science in general in Spain and several european countries. The paper also describes some of the main causes of this problem and look for solutions by collecting, discussing and analyzing opinions of experts. I consider this article very important in the sense that it is not only in Spain, the students interest in experimental sciences is decreasing every year. This paper proposes successful experiences in motivating students to study chemistry. We must increase the contextualization in science subjects through experimentation and include ICT resources in teaching and learning. I consider interesting open channels between scientists and teachers and exchange ideas through internet. Statements included in the document are really useful for teachers because shows possible solutions for teachers everyday problems in the Sciences classroom like the use of experimental activities and ICTs in the classroom in order to make Chemistry a more interesting subject for students.

Date: 2014.04.25

Posted by Untung Nugroho Harwanto (Turkey)

Message: Science, especially Chemistry and Physics, sometime has an unobservable phenomena. Sometime teachers just explain an abstract concept without any giving an analogy related to the course. In another side teachers sometime just focus on calculation so that the students just try to focus on mathematical calculation without any conceptual understanding. Students find science difficult because they have to content with different representations such as experiments, formulas and calculation, graphs, and conceptual explanation at the same time. Moreover, they have to make transformation among them. For example, students need to be able to transfer from graphical representation to mathematical representation.
Teachers and students have different view about science. Moreover, teacher should able to see how their views are different from students’ view. Thus, they can begin to understand why students have difficulties in chemistry and science. Students and teachers live in different World and it will be difficult to communicate because they speak different language.

Date: 2014.04.25

Posted by Abdillahi Hajiomer Hassan (Turkey)

Message: The paper points out that there is a decline of students’ motivation and interest towards science in general in Spain. The paper also highlights some of the main causes of this problem and their suggested respective solutions by collecting, discussing and analyzing opinions of experts. In fact as many researchers from many parts of the world found the same problem, we can say this lack of students’ motivation and interest towards science is not a problem in Spain only but also it is a global problem and it needs a universal solution. As many researchers suggest, the students’ motivation can be increased by increasing experiments and practical sessions so that students will learn the concepts of the subject matter by doing. These activities will also make students involved and let actively participate the teaching-learning process rather than passively sitting in the class. The paper also suggests the use computer simulations and virtual laps.
In general, the paper is relevant and it can be benefited not only for Spain but also for educational institutions worldwide.

Date: 2012.10.14

Posted by Maria Teresa Santos Palas (Portugal)

Message: I consider this article of great importance in the sense that it is not only in Greece or Spain, but also in Portugal, that the experimental sciences themes are deprecated when compared to the ones from the Portuguese Language or Mathematics areas.
The workload is lower, the proposed experiments are few in number, teachers do not have sufficient experience in terms of knowledge of alternative or complementary experiences (often, very easy to perform experiments, requiring simple resources, easily available, are potential and effective ways to route students in a path to the beauty of chemistry).
As a consequence of this reality, students reveal themselves less motivated to study sciences. However, when given positive suggestions to this area - and I speak of primary school level - they show themselves quite interested/interventional not only through the comments they make regarding the practical experimentation, but also through the interpretation of the experiments and, also, the suggestion and operationalization of new situations. Therefore, I believe that there is a need for substantial reinforcement relatively to this context. Sciences/chemistry should be largely valued from the beginning of the school career and not just during high school - depending on the future orientation - or at university. As the publication in analysis suggests, there's a need to find effective means for motivating students because otherwise we will continue to have a very poor literacy in science/chemistry.
This publication proposes as successful experiences in motivating students to study chemistry, a growing contextualization in science subjects through experimentation and inclusion of ICT in teaching and learning. In my opinion, they will be part of a positive path, as experimental classes are synonymous of active classes which are great for children. They allow to counteract the monotony and provide students/students and students/teacher interactions in addition to collaborative learning. Yet, a strong responsibility must be assumed either in planning or in the operation of these activities because all students must have equal opportunities to become involved as active agents without destabilizing the classroom context. Relatively to the inclusion of ICT, they are already an element of success as they enter the daily lives of students and, being modern resources, meet their expectations. However,it is convenient not to abuse from the application of these resources, to avoid the risk of turning the classroom into a very impersonal event. Good protocols, motivating themes, well informed teachers and adequate resources will be the supplement to make teaching and learning sciences a rewarding and fulfilling process for both students and teachers.
This publication presents the difficulties for teachers to keep up to date relatively to the continuing progress of research. This could be overcome through the provision of Training Courses for teachers, as the current chances of attending them are very strict. If the teacher has capable alternatives that enable him to respond to several requests, he will have higher self-esteem and motivation that will lead to his personal and professional success, positively interfering in the teaching-learning process, with a reflection in a better education for students.
Also, learning and motivation of students depend on the identification of pupils with their teacher. Motivated teachers facilitate engaged students.
I find this teaching resource very useful because it encourages the exchange of ideas, the analysis of diverse opinions, knowledge sharing,... helping to achieve effective understanding of these issues.

Date: 2012.10.11

Posted by MATTHYS Nathalie (ENCBW Louvain-La-Neuve) (BELGIUM)

Message: TITLE OF THE PAPER OR PUBLICATION:

The problems of chemistry and science teaching in Spain
Possible suggestions to consider for papers and publications:
 Why is this paper relevant?
This paper describes the specificities of Spanish teaching but their specificities and ideas are close to ours on a certain number of aspects.
 Does the paper explain the causes for the students’ lack of motivation to study chemistry?
If yes, do you consider them relevant? Why?
The causes described are relevant and are similar to what we experience in Belgium. One of these is the use of formulas as a terminological language without giving them a meaning. They also mention the complex, tedious and abstract aspects of chemistry.
 Does the paper explain the students’ obstacles in addressing chemistry?
If yes, do you consider them relevant? Why?
Yes, they are the same as the causes of students’ lack of motivation (see above). However, one obstacle in that country does not seem to be present in Belgium: the author mentions contempt for the role of women in sciences.
 Does the paper / publication report successful experiences in motivating students to study chemistry?
If yes, do you consider them transferable to your situation? Why?
Not really, the ideas are just ideas…
 Does the paper / publication presents the difficulties of chemistry teachers to keep update to the continuous progresses of the research?
If yes, do you agree with the situation described?
The author suggests that the teacher develop further their basic knowledge in order to contextualise the chemistry subjects to give them meaning. It is also necessary to do something at the methodological level: modelling, collaborative learning, peer education, experiential learning. But teachers complain about the lack of time, special training, and support from the institutions.
However the author mentions the opening of channels between scientists and school and an exchange of ideas through a cyberspace but we do not know much about it
 Does the paper / publication propose solutions to in order to exploit at secondary school level the most recent findings in the field of chemistry?
If yes, do you consider this solution feasible?
The paper suggests possible approaches for chemistry teaching: new methods that leave more room for research, practical work, and group projects… This kind of approach would enable to mention the latest discoveries in chemistry.
They suggest creating teachers’ networks and local roots (towns, communities…)

Date: 2012.10.01

Posted by MILENA KIROVA (Bulgaria)

Message: THE MAIN FOCUS OF THE PAPER IS ON THE PECULIARITIES OF TEACHING SCIENCE, PARTICULARLY CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICS, IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS IN SPAIN. IT PROPOSES SOME SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEMS DISCUSSED.
THE OBSTACLES OF SCIENCE EDUCATION, WHICH THE FIRST PART OF THE PAPER DEALS WITH, INFLUENCE STUDENTS’ MOTIVATION OF LEARNING CHEMISTRY. STUDYING CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICS AS ONE SCHOOL SUBJECT DOES NOT ALLOW PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE CONTENT AS WELL AS RECOGNIZING THE EVERYDAY LIFE IMPORTANCE OF EACH SCIENCE. THE LACK OF PRACTICAL LABORATORY WORK AND THE THEORY-BASED APPROACHES OF TEACHING APPEAR TO BE DISCOURAGING FACTORS THAT STUDENTS EXPERIENCE WHEN CONSIDERING THE STUDY OF SCIENCE. STUDENTS’ LACK OF INTEREST IN SCIENCE MAY ACTUALLY BE THE RESULT OF A LEARNING DIFFICULTY. THE PAPER, HOWEVER, DOES NOT DISCUSS ANY PROBLEMATIC FOR THE STUDENTS ISSUES AS PART OF THE SUBJECT MATERIAL. DISTURBING IS THE FACT THAT THE NUMBER OF STUDENTS, PARTICULARLY GIRLS, INTERESTED IN SCIENCE IS DECREASING.

THE SECOND PART OF THE PAPER DEALS WITH THE MEASURES THAT NEED TO BE TAKEN TO STIMULATE SPANISH STUDENTS’ MOTIVATION FOR LEARNING CHEMISTRY IN SCHOOL. BASING THEIR ARGUMENTS ON A RESEARCH, THE AUTHORS POINT OUT THE NEED FOR NEW METHODOLOGICAL APPROACHES, PRACTICAL APPLICATION AND COLLABORATIVE LEARNING AS A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM. THE ROLE OF THE TEACHERS IS A CRUCIAL FACTOR IN CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICS EDUCATION. WITH REGARD TO THIS, THEY NEED FURTHER TRAINING SO THAT THEY CAN INCREASE STUDENTS’ INTEREST AND MOTIVATION FOR THE TOPIC. THEY NEED TO BE CONFIDENT IN APPLYING NEW TEACHING METHODS, INCORPORATING INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGIES IN THE CLASSROOM AND EXPOSING STUDENTS TO RECENT SCIENTIFIC FINDINGS OF SOCIAL IMPORTANCE. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST, THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN SCIENCE THROUGHOUT HISTORY. TEACHERS HERE IN BULGARIA FACE THE SAME NECESSITY OF TRAINING AND UPDATE ON THE CONTINUOUS PROGRESS OF SCIENCE. TO MAINTAIN STUDENTS’ INTEREST, IT IS IMPORTANT TO FOCUS ON SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE AS SOMETHING NECESSARY IN EVERYDAY LIFE.
ON THE WHOLE, THE PAPER DESCRIBES PROBLEMS OF CHEMISTRY TEACHING, WHICH ARE OF IMPORTANCE TO OTHER COUNTRIES AS WELL. SOME OF THE SOLUTIONS IT OFFERS ARE FEASIBLE BUT UNDER DIFFERENT CONDITIONS. UNFORTUNATELY, THE PAPER DOES NOT PROVIDE ANY RESEARCH DATA.

Date: 2012.10.01

Posted by GENOVEVA ILIEVA (Bulgaria)

Message: Being familiar with scientific content and technology is of importance to young people’s education and their role, significant as it is, in society.
It is essential to find the answer to the question: “ What should one know and be able to do in order to deal with real-life problems related to science and technology?”
The answer is knowledge on one hand, and proper attitude, values and motivation to manage matters of scientific nature on the other.
The paper reveals a low level of motivation among young people for science subjects and a decline in scientific literacy.
Current textbooks and teaching syllabuses do not provide the applications of the subject content and its relevance to everyday life.There is a great amount of material to be learnt. Presenting chemistry formulations as a “terminological language”, not as an “interpretative language” explains the fact that students are not aware of how important chemistry is. Most young people consider science content difficult and that is the reason they lose interest. The author of the paper clearly defines the reasons for the lack of motivation. Our task, as teachers, is to make students learn what they need and what they want to learn. We have to develop scientific interests and understanding of the world of science.
Researches show that students do best when “scientifically” explaining processes and phenomena. It means that theory is their stronger point of learning in contrast to skills of interpreting and applying knowledge in specific context. We need to direct attention to developing skills of dealing with real-life problems concerning knowledge of Man and Nature. The author of the paper reports that chemistry learning now implies remembering and presenting particular information. Teachers, as he states, must occupy a crucial role in developing new teaching approaches.
I fully agree with the author’s opinion that students need to be well aware of the fact that science literacy is different from dealing with science. It only gives us the opportunity to use scientific findings for solving real world issues. Science literacy helps us understand phenomena and laws of nature and address everyday-life problems using scientific approaches. To motivate students’ learning we have to explain that the” boring and difficult” subjects develop their logical thinking needed in real life situations and for their successful future career.
The role of the teachers in enhancing the interest in chemistry is of major importance. Their efforts should be directed towards the development of basic skills, familiarizing students with the importance of science to the environment, the social aspects of science, the scientific way of thinking and the scientific approaches. All this necessitates keeping abreast of science and new technologies. I agree with what science teachers say. To achieve it, they really need time, special training and good knowledge of information and communications technologies. Another important aspect is the lack of emphasis on the practical laboratory work. To fulfill the aims, teachers should be provided with training and seminars as well as recent teaching methodology. Increasing the number of lessons in secondary school classes is also significant.
The motivation of students can be increased by showing them how chemistry relates to other fields of science and to other subjects, such as mathematics, social studies, art and technologies. They need to be aware that scientific knowledge leads to establishing new technologies, which in turn allow further scientific findings.
The involvement of students in project work using Internet resources seek to make chemistry an attractive field of study.
Teaching through interactive approaches gives each student the chance to see, hear, ask questions, discuss and actively participate in the learning process. Student-centered learning stimulates students’ interest in science.

Date: 2012.09.27

Posted by James Ring (Ireland)

Message: The paper is relevant as it seeks to address real life, relevant issues that affect the uptake of the sciences in Spain, and from reading the issues, it seems that it is a similar problem with most countries uptake of science.

The paper mentions problems, looking at issues such as Chemistry not being a core subject, perceptions as a tough subject, formal and quantitative methods of scoring exams. However it only mentions them briefly without going into any detail on them.

The paper doesn’t give any actual success stories. It is written almost as a review article and draws on recommendations of other papers. Statement such as “everyone agrees” are unscientific when not backed up by relevant data and sources. Who is everyone?

The paper does speak of problems associated with teachers, such as lack of time etc, but once again there is a lack of a definitive method of how to address these problems. The statement “with commitment of government and the update of educators” is very vague and broad. The only conclusive point is that we must start using the internet more effectively is sharing teaching resources, which is already being done with programmes such as moodle.

I feel if the author carried out their own research or gave a detailed review document of other findings, this would be a worthwhile paper. I felt there was a lack of detail for a peer reviewed article, it is more like a guide to others' work, where actual answers may be found. Far too short on what is certainly a very big and broad issue.

Date: 2012.09.21

Posted by Ioanna Karachaliou (Greece)

Message: This is a short but illuminating paper referring to the causes for students’ lack of motivation to learn and study chemistry. Even though the paper describes the situation in Spain, its content could easily be transferable in Greece.

The main reasons for which students show little preference for engaging in chemistry learning are the following: few hours of teaching time and no obligatory experimental exercises, use of teaching and assessment methods which are overly formal and give little emphasis on developing the students’ critical ability. In other words, the curriculum itself devaluates the chemistry course by taking away its most beautiful and potentially impressive aspect, which is the experimentation. In addition, the curriculum proposes a very outdated assessment system which also pushes the teaching process in a similar path.

In this way, the students are not exposed to the beauty of chemistry which is more easily brought out via experimentation and they consider it a boring and difficult subject in which they have very little possibility of performing well. In addition, chemistry is required only for entering a university faculty related with health sciences and as a result even this type of external motivation does not exist. The paper refers also to the existence of certain social stereotypes, like “Girls do not perform as well in science as boys do”, which can also act as additional factors for decreasing student motivation to learn and study chemistry.

The paper does not refer to empirical data from the application of different methods that could enhance students’ motivation to learn chemistry. There is reference however to certain solutions that are proposed by education specialists for making the teaching process more attractive and rewarding for both the student and teacher. Such solutions involve the use of ICT, practical experiments, projects via collaborative learning. The role of the teacher turns out to be very crucial since he/she is the one that has to implement the new teaching methods and be the first one to adapt to a new system. Teachers usually appear to complain for the few teaching hours, the lack of training and technical support and the difficulty of applying non-traditional teaching approaches on an everyday basis. It seems that in order to achieve student motivation, policy makers have to take into account the level of teacher motivation first. A stressed, not well-trained, not well-paid teacher cannot be constantly enthusiastic about his/her work and also transfer this enthusiasm to the students, in the context of affective motivation.

In this way, the proposed solutions are based on the opinions of specialists in the field of education and they are correct per se. However, they constitute mostly general statements and no specific solutions to the problem. In this way, it is difficult to determine the degree at which these solutions can be feasible and efficacious.

National Reports on successful experiences to promote lifelong learning for chemistry The national reports on chemistry successful experiences to promote lifelong learning for chemistry are now available on the related section of the project portal. The reports presents examples of successful experiences in the partner countries and the results of testing of ICT resources with science teachers.

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