Making Sense of Your AnswerRowan Hollingworth
Division of Chemistry, The University of New England
Chemistry students spend a lot of time solving chemistry problems. (At first year level, these are mainly exercises rather than true problems.) In effect, we mainly expect them to develop their problem solving skills simply by practising solving problems. In fact, we may be able to help them improve these skills by explicitly developing their metacognitive skills1. We have all had experience of students just writing down their answers directly from their calculators. Often they do not estimate the answer beforehand to see what magnitude to expect, nor do they check to see if the answer is reasonable against what they know from their background knowledge of chemistry or of the real world.
Because this is a continuing problem, we are developing an on-line tutorial for ongoing use for new students each year. Our aim is to provide assistance particularly to our external students in a foundation level unit, Chemistry 123 and in the first year units, Chemistry 101 and 112. Of course internal students can also use the tutorial. Making Sense of Your Answer, developed in WebCT, aims to help students start thinking about at least one area of problem solving, namely checking their answers. We expect it will also help strengthen links between our students' knowledge of chemistry and the real world.
The tutorial contains a number of modules, including: Introduction; Sizes of Familiar Things; The SI System of Measurement; Conversion Between Units; and Estimating Answers in Calculations. The introduction has some comments about learning, knowledge and problem solving in general. The other modules contain brief material on the topic and a multiple choice test. Emphasis has been given to providing plenty of feedback in answers to show students how to check their answers and how to make links between their chemical knowledge and the real world. Throughout, there are plenty of links to URLs on study skills, learning and problem solving in general, together with those particularly related to problem solving in chemistry and relevant chemistry topics.
We have also made use of the bulletin board feature of WebCT to give students the opportunity to post messages about their difficulties and successes in chemistry problem solving. In time, we hope these comments will build into a valuable resource on chemistry problem solving for our students. As yet we are still in the early stages of developing and evaluating the tutorial.
UniServe Science News Volume 11 November 1998
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