Exploring attitudes and difficulties in school chemistry in the Emirates
In the first stage of this project, the areas of difficulty for students were identified, using a sample of 490 students aged between 15-17 years. The main areas of difficulty for year 10 were: chemical formula, quantum number, periodic table of elements, lanthanides and actinides and chemical equations. For year 11, the main areas of difficulty were: male calculation, chemical equation balance, homologous series, isomerism, alkyl groups and pH and pOH calculation. In the second stage, students were then asked for comments on the areas of difficulty and, later, took a short test using structural communication grids, these offering insights into areas of confusion and misconceptions. For the third stage of this project, attitudes relating to chemistry were measured using questionnaires, this being conducted with 225 students aged 15-17 years. The surveys and questionnaires revealed a clear picture of the situation in chemistry in the Emirates showing fairly negative attitudes, probably mainly as a result of an overcrowded and largely irrelevant curriculum taught by very didactic approaches which took little account of the psychology of learning. The core of the study involved the development of four units of paper-based teaching material. These were designed specifically to meet two sets of criteria. Firstly, the predictions from information processing determined the way the material was presented so that student learning was likely to be enhanced. Secondly, the evidence from attitude development informed the design with the aim that positive attitudes towards studies in chemistry would be encouraged. The way the units were used and the way they were tested is described, this work also being carried out with students in years 10 and 11 (age 16-17 approximately) in typical schools in the Emirates. For this stage, a total sample of 800 students boys and girls aged between 16-17 years in Emirates secondary schools participated. Each unit of work lasted for about 6-8 weeks. The testing involved a number of approaches including structural communication grids, open-ended questions and, with one unit, the development of a concept map. Attitudes to numerous aspects of the processes involved in learning chemistry were also explored. The performance of the students was found to be markedly better than control groups, the t-test values being significant at around p < 0.001. Numerous attitude comparisons were made using the chi-square statistic. Here, extremely high values were obtained, indicating quite massive attitude changes had taken place. The insights offered by the study are summarised and the possibilities for future work are also outlined. The whole study arose from a concern that students in the Emirates often seemed to have poor attitudes towards their studies in chemistry and that many were rejecting chemistry as a subject to pursue. This study has provided illumination on the problem and, on the basis of the evidence obtained, suggests possible ways forward to a better approach to the study of what is an important school discipline, the outcomes being widely applicable in many countries.