Insights into Science Students’ Problem-Solving Strategies in the Chemistry Laboratory

Kelly, Orla and Lovatt, James (2012) Insights into Science Students’ Problem-Solving Strategies in the Chemistry Laboratory. Chemistry, 47 (6). pp. 643-660.


Problem solving in the chemistry teaching laboratory is the essence of good science educationpractice and is increasingly being recognised and valued as an approach to science teaching fromprimary to higher education. This paper gives an overview of a research study which identified theproblem solving processes Year 1 undergraduate science students used while undertaking problembasedlearning tasks in the chemistry laboratory. The study conducted used a qualitative researchmethodology of observation, followed by in-depth semi-structured interview. The literature is rich withstudies that attempt to describe differences between the problem-solving behaviours of experts andnovices across a wide range of discipline and subject areas. Generally, importance is placed ondomain specific knowledge for the expert, which is developed through experience. This is of particularrelevance to this study since the students have a range of different prior experiences in the ‘chemistry’and ‘experimental/practical’ domains. Suggestions regarding the nature of the different strategiesidentified are offered as topics for discussion in relation to well established problem-solving strategiesin other curriculum areas. Furthermore, this paper offers an insight into how the problem-solvingstrategies of these students may be related to theories on how students approach learning. Possibleimplications and recommendations for laboratory teaching staff are made. This is particularly relevantin the context of easing the transition from secondary to higher education.

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