What exactly do we mean by problem solving in chemistry? As chemistry teacher, we need to inform our practice as fully as possible by reference to educational research. Put in the most straightforward manner, problem solving is “What you do, when you don’t know what to do.” (Wheatly) The definition of what is a problem thus depends on who is solving the problem. The level of expertise of the solver will determine whether a particular example is just an exercise or rather a real problem to them. 

Adequate practice is certainly needed to learn problem solving. But it must be the right kind of practice! How useful are the worked examples that students see in their textbooks or which we may provide on the board in a drill? This highlights the need to examine carefully what we are doing about teaching the actual processes of problem solving.

According to Bodner, chemistry courses and textbooks appear to focus on quantitative problems. There is an interest on how chemistry students solve quantitative problems and also in the effects of different instructional strategies on students’ success in problem solving. Many research reports are focused on the use of algorithms, ” rules that can be followed more or less automatically by reasonably intelligent systems…” 

Nurrenbern and Pickering discussed conceptual learning in chemistry, stated, “Most educators see solving chemistry problems to be the major behavioral objective for freshman chemistry. Textbooks are written form this point of view, and this may be what establishes the supreme importance of numerical problems in student minds…” Chemistry teachers need to keep in mind that solving problems is not equivalent to teaching students about the nature of matter.

Technology is being used to teach problem solving. Powers, described a computer-assisted problem solving method for use with beginning chemistry students. Krajcik et al, described several preliminary studies involving students interacting with genetics and with the molecular structure of gases. Group and individual patterns of how students learned concepts and applied problem solving strategies were compared. Such research should provide guidance to classroom teachers about the use of technology and the design of curriculum and instruction.

By: Mrs. ROLEN B. BUNAG | MNHS-Cabcaben, Mariveles, Bataan

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