What is Chemistry Education

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Chapter 2 Literature review on Chemistry laboratories


Chapter 2 describes literature about Chemistry laboratory teaching and how it relates to the research problem. The literature is reviewed under the following sections: Introduction (Section 2.1.1); Classroom environment (Section 2.2); Laboratory and the skills they provide (Section 2.3); the nature of practical work and the curriculum (Section 2.4); and the background to teacher-learners interaction (Section 2.5). It continues with the background on science laboratory environment inventory (Section 2.6); the theoretical framework (Section 2.7) and ends with the Conclusion (Section 2.8).
The literature review in this study aims at finding out what has been researched on teacher-learner interaction and laboratory learning environment globally and in Namibia in particular. This provides justification for the proposed research on how it is different to that which has been published. The literature further provides a rationale for doing the proposed study and is used to form a theoretical framework that will inform the design and methodology of the proposed study. Finally, the review of literature will identify gaps, in the respective knowledge they exist today, (Creswell, 2003:30).
Earlier studies by Mucherah, (2008: 66) and Myint & Goh, (2001: 22) reported that if classroom environment was perceived by learners as being conducive, it tended to enhance and develop a positive attitude in the subject matter and enhances better achievement in the subject. However, it is unfortunate that most classroom environment studies have been carried out in developed countries like Australia, United States of America, New Zealand and in some Asian nations like Turkey, Singapore and Taiwan (Fraser, 2001: 4). There is very little research on how classroom environment in Africa influences performance (Mucherah, 2008: 62), although, Ampiah (2006: 142) studied, how Ghanaian Senior Secondary School learners perceived their science laboratory learning environments in Biology classes, but this study did not focus on Chemistry learning environment and laboratory practical work and it provided limited information on the research topic. The findings suggest that there is a relationship between learning environments and learners‘ attitudes to Biology lessons.
The situation in Namibia with regards to science learning environment research is even worse (Olivier & Poolman, 2009:1). The study done by Adeyoke (2007: 8) focused on learner-centred education in Physical Science teaching in Namibia. Adeyoke (2007:6) mentioned that practical activities in science lessons presented a good opportunity for learner centred education without going into details regarding practical work. Chemistry practical work in schools in Namibia is a subject that has not been researched.
There is need for improvement in Chemistry laboratory work in Namibia. During science workshops that are organised by the Ministry of Education, some educators in Namibia argue that laboratory work is expensive and time consuming and the cost involved is not justified by the technical skills developed. Hawkes (2004:1257) shares the same view. This position has been criticised by Baker, 2005:12; Morton, 2005:998; Sacks, 2005:999; and Stephens, 2005:998. These authors argue that Chemistry educators should provide compelling evidence that laboratory classes achieve more than what Hawkes implies. On the other hand, Hofstein (2004:252) argues that practical experiments should be a fundamental teaching source. This is why laboratory activities have had a distinctive and central role in the science curriculum. As a result, science educators have suggested that many benefits accrue from engaging learners in science laboratory activities (Hofstein & Lunetta, 2004:62; Hofstein, 2004:251; Lunetta et al, 2007:402). Due to the overwhelming benefit in terms of knowledge, understanding and experience by learners doing practical work compares to the cost associated with running practical activities in schools, it is highly recommended that practical work should be part of the school curriculum as explained in sections below.
The following studies by (Knight & Sabot, 1990:307; Roberts, 2002:66; and, Gott & Duggan, 2007:272), have argued that science cannot be meaningful to learners without worthwhile practical experiences in the school laboratory. Unfortunately, the terms school laboratory or lab and practical have been used too often without precise definitions to embrace a wide array of activities. Typically, the terms have meant experiences in school settings where learners interact with materials to observe and understand the natural world. Some laboratory activities have been designed and conducted to engage learners individually, while others have sought to engage learners in small groups and in large-group demonstration settings.
Teachers‘ guidance and instructions over the years have ranged from teacher-centred to learner-centred in practical investigations. Ogilvie (2007:105-107) and Tobin (1990:404) write: ―Laboratory activities appeal as a way to learn with understanding and, at the same time, engage in a process of constructing knowledge by doing science practical‖. They also suggest that meaningful learning is possible in the laboratory if learners are given opportunities to manipulate equipment and materials in order to be able to construct their knowledge of phenomena and related scientific concepts. According to Lunetta et al., (2007:425) meaningful learning is effective if the following variables are considered:

  • Learning objectives should be practically obtainable;
  • Clear instructions provided by the teacher and the laboratory guide;
  • Availability of materials and equipment for use in the laboratory investigation;
  • Harmonious learner–learner and teacher–learner interactions during the laboratory work;
  • A good understanding by teachers and learners of how the learners‘ performance is to be assessed;
  • Compilation of learners‘ laboratory reports and
  • Adequate preparation, appropriate attitudes, knowledge, and behaviours of the teachers should be adequate.

The above mentioned variables become even more important in laboratory-based teaching if they are linked to appropriate techniques of teaching. They are referred to as variables because they are subject to change under different circumstances. Domin (1999:545) identifies four techniques that can be applied to the different kinds of laboratory teaching, depending on the expected outcome of the laboratory session. They are the expository, inquiry, discovery and problem-based methods.
He notes that impact will be enhanced if the following factors that promote learning are considered:

  1. Allow the learners to think about the larger purpose of their investigation and the sequence of tasks they need to pursue to achieve those tasks;
  2. Assessment and feedback should be done in order for learners to take practical work seriously
  3. Educators should be informed on what is best practice; and
  4. Resources for more appropriate laboratory practical work should not be limited (Hofstein & Lunetta, 2004:31).

Finally, the variables and factors referred to above should provide a learning environment where learners can link theoretical concepts and experimental observations (Hegarty-Hazel, 1990:12). According to Moore (2006:519), the following factors create a learning environment that is beneficial:

  • understanding subject-matter,
  • improved scientific reasoning,
  • an appreciation that experimental work is complex and can be ambiguous, and
  • a good understanding of how science works.

Skills that can be developed in good laboratory exercises include:

  • manipulation of equipment;
  • experimental design;
  • observation and interpretation;
  • problem solving and critical thinking;
  • communication and presentation;
  • data collection, processing and analysis;
  • laboratory ‗know-how‘, including developing safe working practice and risk assessment skills;
  • time management; ethical and professional behaviour;
  • application of new technologies; and
  • team work (Boud D., Dunn, J. & Hegarty-Hazel, E. 1986:17 and Bennett & O‘Neale, 1998:26).

All these skills when acquired by Namibian learners will not only benefit them in Physical Science Paper 3 which is a practical paper, but in many other areas and in life after school as well.
With this in mind, it has become imperative for a study of this nature to be conducted in Namibia in order to consider how the performance and understanding of learners, teachers and teacher educators in the country can be improved.

Link between the laboratory environment and teaching

Teaching in the laboratory depends on the environment that prevails in that laboratory. In today‘s advanced technological systems, there are new ways of creating space or environment that are accommodative to both the normal and disabled learners. Such environments should enhance learner-teacher and learner-learner interactions as well as the support for multiple mode of learning. Although normal class teaching refers to the theoretical view of transferring knowledge, teaching in the laboratory requires the active engagement, hands-on, minds-on activities through the use of laboratory materials and techniques. NIED (2005:1) suggested that the teaching of theoretical lessons should be followed by practical work on the topics that are covered in the theoretical lessons. Through this process, learners‘ knowledge and understanding are enhanced and consolidated by the practical activities that they go through after each theoretical teaching. As a result, these create a much needed link between theoretical teachings and practical work that usually acts as a consolidation of the content learned. Practical work is done in the laboratory mostly.

How the school environment relates to the classroom environment

School environment refers to the prevailing socio-cultural behaviours that are practised by the school. The environment refers to the school setting in-terms of the physical plant, the fairness and adequacy of disciplinary procedures as well as the academic environment. These involve the management of the school, sport, beliefs, rules and pride that learners have in their school. School environment arises from the various complex transactions that characterise the daily classroom as well as school life; this is influenced by the underlying, institutional values and belief systems, norms, ideologies, rituals, traditions and practice that constitute the school culture, (Myint & Goh, 2001:25).
Classroom environment refers to the place where learners and teachers interact with each other and use a variety of tools and information resources in their pursuit of learning activities in the classroom (Mucherah, 2008: 69). Although what is sometimes referred to as a classroom environment is set by the type of teacher-learner and learners-learner interactions in the classroom, it is imperative to know that research has proved that the school environment influences the classroom environment, which in turn, influences learning (Ampiah, 2006:142). Due to the fact that Taylor (2004: 23) has proved that the way learners perceive their classroom environment affects their achievements, it is important for this study to determine how learners perceive Chemistry classes in Namibia.
There is a close link between school environment and classroom environment in that the classroom environment is influenced by school environment. This means that if there are various disruptions in the running of the school for example noise, misbehaviour, lack of security and poor infrastructure, learners will tend to misbehave in the classroom. This is why the study done in Nigeria by Mucherah (2008: 72), suggested that achievement in national school examinations were influenced by the kind of school one attended and the availability of resources in that specific school.

How is the classroom environment related to the laboratory environments

The classroom environment is closely related to the laboratory environment, with just a few physical differences like structure, design, settings, odour and the rules. Although teaching and learning do take place in both environments the level of safety precautions in the laboratory is high compared to the classroom due to the varies chemicals and tools in the laboratory. This will mean the rules and regulations in the laboratory will be stricter and higher supervision in the classroom will be needed due to the sensitivities of chemicals in the laboratory compared to a normal classroom. These various physical items change the learning environment in the laboratory from the one in the classroom. According to Johnstone and Al-Shuali (2005: 42) the purpose of classroom teaching in science which involves Chemistry is to teach theoretical knowledge while the purpose of laboratory teaching is to teach hands-on skills and illustrate theory in practical terms.

Chapter 1
1. 1. Introduction
1.2. Background to the study
1.3. The research problem
1.4. Aims of the study
1.5. Research questions
1.6. Significance of the study
1.7. What is Chemistry Education
1.8. The relationship between Chemistry and practical work
1.9. The two main philosophy of teaching Chemistry
1.10. Positivism and practical work
1.11. Constructivism and practical work.
1.12. Investigations as a process of learning Chemistry
1.13. Definitions of key terms and concepts
1.14. Chapter division
1.15. Conclusion
Chapter 2
2.1 Literature review on Chemistry Laboratory
2.2. Classroom environment
2.3. Laboratory, the skills it provide and the situation in Namibia
2.4. The nature of practical work
2.5. Teacher-Learner interaction
2.6. The background on the Science Laboratory Environment Inventory (SLEI)
2.7. The underlying theoretical framework
2.8. Conclusion
Chapter 3
3.1. Education system in Namibia
3.2. Chemistry education
3.3. Roles of Namibian government in providing education
3.4. Learner Centred Education (LCE)
3.5. Teaching and learning
3.6. Conclusion
Chapter 4
4.1. Research Methodology
4.2. Preparation phase
4.3. Data collection phase
4.4. Implementation phase
4.5. Preparation and data analysis phase
4.6. Conclusion
Chapter 5
5.1. Introduction
5.2. Attitudes to Chemistry practicals Questionnaire (ACPQ) data analysis
5.3. Science Laboratory Environment Inventory (SLEI)
5.4. Questionnaire on teacher Interaction (QTI)
5.5 Integration of qualitative research in to quantitative research
5.6 Conclusion
Chapter 6
6.1. Introduction
6.2. Research question one
6.3. Research question two
6.4. Research question three
6.5. Research question four
6.6. Research question five
6.7. Research question six.
6.9. Research question eight

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