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The motivation of students to learn Chemistry

Olga Ferreira1, Adília Silva2 and Filomena Barreiro1

1Polytechnic Institute of Bragança, 2Secondary School S/3 Abade de Baçal Bragança/Portugal

[email protected], [email protected], [email protected]


This work describes important aspects related to the motivation of secondary school students to learn chemistry. The topics were discussed considering our experience in a polymer chemistry education project and science communication activities involving the Polytechnic Institute of Bragança.
Starting from the recognition that there is a generalized lack of interest of young people to study chemistry due to its negative image, both in society and at school, we present a Portuguese secondary school example where context based approaches are currently being used to teach Chemistry. Additionally, the importance of laboratory instruction is emphasized as it improves students’ attitudes and cognitive growth. Studies suggest that inquiry-type experiments lead to more positive attitude towards learning chemistry when compared to confirmatory-type experiments. Also, in terms of laboratory learning methods, students are more enthusiastic learning through collaborative and peer tutoring work. Non formal educational activities also play a very important role. From our experience as a tertiary education institution, several science communication activities can also be very effective in promoting chemistry, namely, the visit to R&D projects and the contact with researchers. These short visits can be complemented with one week internships in research laboratories during the event “Science in the summer at IPB” (Agência Ciência Viva, 2009-2011). The 2011 International Year for Chemistry was also a successful experience where numerous IPB researchers have participated in the local implementation of European initiatives such as “Researchers’ Night” and “Night of Chemistry”.

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Comments about this Paper

Your comments are welcome

Date: 2013.01.22

Posted by Ana Martín Lasanta (Spain)

Message: I find this document interesting / relevant because it emphasizes three points to reinforce literacy on chemistry:

1. Reload vision "toxic" socially extended chemistry with a new perspective in highlighting the contributions in this area of knowledge to improve the quality of life, technological development.

2. To highlight the role of chemistry with most popular areas such as physics and biology. The overlap between the different experimental sciences often confuses students recognize only visible or intuitive objectives such as the study of the universe and of living things. However, the objectives of the chemistry study matter and its transformations in an intermediate scale (atoms, molecules) - and its tools go unnoticed.

3. Stresses the need to "go to the lab", working in collaboration with researchers and technologists to teach chemistry and arouse the interest and / or scientific careers.

This document speaks to the lack of motivation but the "bad image" socially widespread that adversely affects the number of potential students. "(...) A recent editorial in Nature Chemistry describes the negative connotation often given to the" chemistry "word for the press [2]. (...) Another case is the lack of information related to anti-chemical advertising products labeled as natural [2]. (...) Unlike physics or biology, chemistry lacks champions, role models and great challenges to inspire potential students.

The Document does not explain the obstacles facing students in learning chemistry.

The document proposes successful experiences in motivating students to study chemistry. In this paper the authors cite and discuss a National High School Chemistry in Portugal. This program aims to promote the scientific activities of dissemination and initiation in laboratory work / research supervised by researchers. It is aimed at final-year students who will enter university and involves secondary school teachers (Abbot of Baçal High School) and university teachers and researchers (Polytechnic Institute of Bragança). Also, talk about other initiatives promoted locally by the IPB such as "the Olympics of Chemistry" (Sociedade Portuguesa de Química, 2006-2011), and "Science in the summer in the IPB" (Agência Ciência Viva, 2009-2011), and three events open to the general public during in year 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry: "Days with Chemistry", "Researchers' Night" and "Night of Chemistry".
In the case of Granada, I think this experience is perfectly feasible given the importance and the amount of resources the UGR and CSIC. In addition, institutions such as the Science Park are already devoted to the dissemination of science and have hundreds of experts, and Plants for specialized projects.

The document does not present the difficulties of chemistry teachers to keep up with the continuous progress of science and proposes solutions exhibit high levels of recent discoveries about chemistry. Provided they are institutionally supported initiatives that take into account the time and resources required to engage in a project like the "National High School Chemistry of Portugal". Develop specific outreach activities require a lot of organization, preparation, coordination ... and to be successful you have to invest human and economic resources. Put another way, the involvement of the teacher should be within their working hours and should be supported and controlled by the center / centers involved.

Date: 2012.11.20

Posted by Françoise Derwa - Collège Sainte-Véronique (Belgium)

Message: -Why is this paper relevant?
It presents various innovative approaches to make students more enthusiast towards chemistry learning.
-Does the paper explain the causes for the students’ lack of motivation to study chemistry?
Yes, it gives three main causes:
1. The negative image of chemistry in society at large;
2. The type of courses, teaching strategies, teaching resources and the lack of dynamic actions on the teachers’ part to encourage students to engage in the subject;
3. Teachers’ training, conceptions and convictions.
If yes, do you consider them relevant? Why?
The factors responsible for the lack of motivation from the young are well identified.
-Does the paper explain the students’ obstacles in addressing chemistry?
If yes, do you consider them relevant? Why?
Not really.
-Does the paper / publication report successful experiences in motivating students to study chemistry?
If yes, do you consider them transferable to your situation? Why?
Yes, three interesting strategies are defined and illustrated:
- context-based approaches: an experience in a secondary school is described.

[A very important aspect of chemistry teaching in context is its potential to motivate students including for conceptual learning during and after academic studies.
Contexts should be familiar and relevant for students (for girls and boys), not distract students from the related concepts; not be too complex or confused for students].

 Lab work
 Partnership and collaboration with chemistry professionals (Organisation of the “Olympiades de la Chimie”; visits to R&D...)

-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?
No it does not.
-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?
No it does not.

Possible suggestions to consider for teaching resources:
-Is the teaching resource described useful for you?
-Do you think it can increase the students’ interest toward chemistry?
-Do you think it can help the students to understand better and faster? NO
-Do you think it proposes an innovative didactical approach?
Such activities are already set up in Liège, notably by Réjouisciences and Essencia

Date: 2012.10.03

Posted by Gamze ÖZBEK (Turkey)

Message: This paper is written on the basis of reasons which reduce students' attitudes and motivation toward chemistry courses. Tree reason is offered with this paper, one of them is insufficient formation knowledge of teachers, the other is society’s negative view of chemistry and the last one is the lack of appropriate curriculum and learning strategies on chemistry teaching. This paper both propose elimination of the source of these reasons and suggest a strategy, that is known inquiry based approach for increasing attitudes.
Moreover this paper include how would create a good image about chemistry in society and a point of view for students’ understanding between information’s and their applications, and also how the institutions of training teachers would consider about alternative strategies.

This paper is focused on the students' lack of motivation and its link with the curriculum, as well as it is described the source of the problem in the context of society. While also dealing with these issues it is presented recommendations for chemistry education in the society, such as Night of Chemistry.

This paper described the relationship between the obstruction on chemistry teaching and students' motivation. As we know, the higher the motivation of a class is provides the number of significant learning. In this sense, the idea of article is increasing motivated for achieving success
In this paper, it is discussed whether mostly inquiry-type laboratory method would significant increase the motivation. In this sense, an effective teaching technique is given on the paper.

Date: 2012.09.28

Posted by SAMIR NAIMOV (Bulgaria)

Message: The article is fused on the secondary school students to study chemistry in Portigal and there I have found the paper relevant to the objectives of the project. The main thesis is developed on the base of a project related to polymer education and science communication activities involving the Polytechnic Institute of Bragança. The article is organized in 4 main sections. The first section – introduction very briefly points attention of the reader to major factors involved in shaping the learning motivation of students. Two of them: 1) The negative image of chemistry in general society and 2) The type of curriculum, teaching strategies, didactic resources and lack of teacher’s dynamic actions to incentivize the involvement of students into the discipline are further discussed in the next sections. The authors have managed to identify a very important on my opinion problem concerning the public opinion about chemistry as natural unfriendly area of human progress. Special attention is paid on the role of media for opposing conventional, meaning derivatives of chemical production, to so called natural products. In the next section the main attention is focused on the difficulties to learn chemistry resulted from the complexity of chemistry curricula. The authors do introduce their 12 year program (students aged 17) entitled “Materials, their structure, applications and implications of their production and use”, a joint project between Polytechnic Institute of Bragança (IPB) and the Secondary School Abade de Baçal. During the project classes in three main topics has to be prepared: 1) Metals and Metallic Alloys, 2) Fuels, Energy and Environment, and 3) Plastics, Glasses and New Materials. There are also two laboratory units which should take place by the end of each topic. This approach requires coordinated action between researchers from Polytechnic Institute of Bragança and Secondary School Abade de Baçal, which will provide an excellent opportunity for students to get involved in research atmosphere which will stimulate their interest in the field of chemistry. By the end of this section the role of researchers in order to achieve the goals of the project are described. Brief description of the role of laboratory activities is provided. In this regard I would clearly state that the article presented provides a good platform for increment of students’ motivation to study chemistry.

Date: 2012.09.28


Message: This paper is focused on the motivation of secondary school students to learn chemistry. Based on their own experience and the research findings published by other science educators authors reveal important aspects related to the students’ motivation and interest in chemistry.

Three factors are pointed out as the major causes for the students’ lack of motivation to study chemistry: (1) the negative image of chemistry in society; (2) the type of curriculum and its contents, teaching strategies, didactic resources, and (3) the teachers training.

Authors do not outline the main obstacles that students meet studying chemistry in school but they share their experience in organizing non-formal science activities. They recommend project-based non-formal education which is carried out jointly with a tertiary education and industry institutions as a way to enhance students’ interest in science as well as to demonstrate a great deal of positive applications of chemistry in our life.

Two approaches related to the formal school education are recommended as an effective way to increase students’ motivation and achievements: the context and inquiry-based education. The former is currently being in use at Portuguese secondary schools and is proved to motivate students to study better chemistry. A programme: “Materials, their structure, applications and implications of their production and use” is reported as an example of successful context-based approach. Additionally, appropriate laboratory activities involving resolution of practical problems such as construction of batteries and biodiesel preparation from used food oil, are found to reinforce the attractiveness of chemistry taught at school. These two approaches are useful and suitable examples of successful practice that could be transfer to each school situation.

The paper does not discuss the difficulties of chemistry teachers to keep update to the continuous progresses of the research but give good examples of application of different activities to promote chemistry among students and society.

Date: 2012.09.27

Posted by Claire McDonnell (Ireland)

Message: This paper was published in 2011 and the authors are teaching staff from a secondary school and a polytechnic institute in Portugal. The paper addresses students’ motivation to learn chemistry and focuses on context based approaches (polymer chemistry project) and on inquiry-type laboratory instruction which are being applied at second level and on science communication activities at third level.

The paper outlines the main factors that contribute to the lack of interest of young people in studying chemistry and two of these, the negative perception of chemistry in society in general and the type of teaching strategies and resources adopted, are addressed in further detail. To support the discussion, several recent and informative references that relate to the image of chemistry in society are incorporated effectively. In addition, a number of examples or case studies for the types of pedagogical approaches it is recommended be adopted are referred to and discussed (context-led activities, laboratory activities that are inquiry-type or collaborative or involve peer tutoring, science communication and interaction between third level researchers and secondary school students and the general public) The third factor that it is argued affects student motivation is teacher conceptions and convictions and this aspect is not dealt with any further in the paper. It would have been interesting if the authors could have incorporated some of the recent literature findings in this area also.

The benefits of the introduction of inquiry-type laboratory activities that have been effectively organised are discussed but it would be helpful to point out the need to consider the associated reduction in the amount of content that can be included in the syllabus as well as the need for continuous and long-term professional development of teachers (e.g. Hofstein et al., Journal Of Research In Science Teaching Vol. 42, No. 7, 791–806, 2005). However, the article does describe recent and effective innovations that have been implemented to address the problem of student motivation and provides appropriate references, both national and international, to allow the reader to find out the detail required to try to transfer these approaches to his/her own situation.

Date: 2012.09.05

Posted by Salta Katerina (Greece)

Message: This paper is relevant because it presents two aspects related to students’ motivation to learn Chemistry. The first one is the negative image of chemistry in society, which causes students to lack motivation to study and learn chemistry. The paper explains how this image is a major students’ obstacle in addressing chemistry. The statement posed in the Nature Chemistry Editorial, namely “chemistry lacks champions, role models and grand challenges to inspire students” is revealing. I think that discussion about actions that would invert the image of chemistry is needed. Furthermore, we ought to develop an attractive catchphrase of chemistry inspiration.
The second aspect is related with educational approaches that promise to increase students’ motivation to learn chemistry, such as the context-based curriculum approach, the chemistry laboratory activities, and the communication with Chemistry researchers. Authors describe their experiences from the case of Portugal by focusing only on the positive aspects; very little discussion is done in reference to the weaknesses of those experiences. For example, which are the possible problems that rise from the implementation of the proposed teaching approaches? Are the students sharing common language with chemistry researchers during their communications?
The paper does not present the difficulties of the chemistry teacher to keep up to date to the continuous progresses of research. On the other hand, it describes the collaboration of the Polytechnic Institute with Secondary school units both (a) in the development of a science education project based on a context curriculum approach, and (b) in “a week students’ experience” in a research laboratory during Summer, as solutions of exploitation at secondary level of the most resent findings of Chemistry.
I believe that the above solutions are feasible but not adequate for addressing the existing problem.

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.