This week we launch our first journal club. Our Group Chair, Jane Essex, will be discussing two papers on the topic suggested by members: “The role of practical work in supporting learning in chemistry”. This journal club will run from 20th February to 2nd March.
How it works:
Two papers offering some different perspectives are linked. They are publicly available, but if you have any access issues, do let us know.
- Kampourakis C. and Tsaparlis, G., 2003. A study of the effect of a practical activity on problem solving in chemistry. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 4(3), pp.319-333. [Available here (CERP is free to access)]
- Abrahams, I. and Reiss, M.J., 2012. Practical work: Its effectiveness in primary and secondary schools in England.
Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(8), pp.1035-1055. [Journal Site, Pre-print freely aavailable here (PDF)]
A synopsis of each paper and discussion prompts are below. When you want to comment or add a discussion point, simply enter your comment in the text box below. It is suggested that you type your comment in a Word document and paste the comment in to the comment box, in case there are any glitches. Once your first comment is approved, it will be published and you will be able to post follow up comments immediately. This journal club formally ends on 2nd March but of course discussion can continue! If you tweet, you can announce your contribution using the #cergjc. The CERG Twitter account is @ChemEdResGroup
Kampourakis and Tsaparlis (2003)
The authors gave some students the chance to carry out an ammonia fountain experiment whilst others didn’t. They then explored whether having a real life demonstration of this situation, which involves different gas pressures would improve students’ ‘problem-solving’ (sic) skills. Students were also asked whether they found the experiment helpful in solving the question, which was a calculation based on data from an ammonia fountain experiment. Whilst the students who had done the experiment achieved a better mark for the calculation, there was little evidence that they identified the experiment as helpful to their understanding.
Abrahams and Reiss (2012)
The authors critique the centrality of practical work to learning in science. Observations of pupils’ abilities to manipulate objects in accordance with teacher intentions, and their acquisition of ideas in the way the teacher intended, were assessed. The assessment was carried out by evaluating a small sample of pupil responses and actions, using a framework of outcomes for the topic being studied. Primary school lessons spent less time on the manipulation of objects or materials but more time teaching the target concepts, commonly through developing the understanding of key vocabulary. Conversely, secondary teachers focus more on the manipulative elements of the activity; this is seen as a ‘trade off’ between ‘hands on’ and ‘minds on’ learning by both teachers and researchers. The researchers did not find evidence that practical activities helped to develop scientific understanding, though they did provide ‘anchorage’ for descriptive recall. Further, and more explicit, scaffolding of understanding is required if practical work is to engender the intended learning.
Feel free to address any/all of the following questions:
- Is the design of the study good? For example, do you think the indicators of learning used are valid? Is the selection of the sample subjects suitable?
- How do the authors help readers to identify the transferability of their findings?
- What model(s)/ description(s)/ framework(s) of learning do the authors use in their study?
- What aspects of chemistry are being learnt in the study?
- Are there alternative interpretations of the data other than that presented by the authors?
- What further questions does the work raise?
- In what ways are the two articles similar, and in what ways do they differ?
We look forward to a lively discussion!