We will first describe relevant context for each of the three teacher-developers and then present the results to address the research questions.
At the start of the network Pete had neither experience with the development of student learning material, nor had he used contextualized material in his classes. His main reason to participate in this network was personal—he wanted to grow further as a teacher. He found it important to continuously professionalize as “the world constantly changes.” Pete used the module in two of his classes, but did make some minor changes to the material before class use, because he did not have sufficient time to enact the module as planned.
Lisa had no experience with the development of learning materials for students of these levels, and had never used context-based materials. Her main reason for participation in this network was change. She wanted to get away from teacher-centered teaching and she sought to develop an alternative with colleagues. She slightly adapted the module before class use. At her school, two teachers not involved in the development process, wanted to use the module also in their classes and negotiated with Lisa about adaptations to be made in the module.
Ed had been involved in the development at national level of practical assignments for students, but had no experience in developing context-based materials. He had not previously used context-based materials. His main reason to join the development process was triggered by a discussion he had with a non-science colleague at school who had no idea how chemistry contributed to his life, something Ed considered an imperative goal for chemistry education. He used the module in his class, as did a colleague at his school not involved in the development. A few minor changes were made in the material before class use. Ed, being the advocate of a role-play to model a chemical reaction, had his students perform this role-play in class.
A summary of the data to answer these teacher-developers’ perceptions of the goals of chemistry education, research question 1, are presented in Table 2.
Pete’s initial goals of chemistry education were rather vague and general. According to Pete, the relevance of chemistry should be emphasized using news items from newspapers or magazines. Students also need to become enthusiastic for chemistry and have to realize that chemical concepts are close to their own life world. The following phrase, in which Pete talked about decomposition, a common chemistry concept, illustrates this: “Students need to be able to apply acquired concepts in a new context and should recognize decomposition during a barbeque”. Concrete contexts should be transferred into abstract concepts: “students have to consider what happens at molecular level during decomposition at the barbecue.”
During class enactment of the module, he experienced that students did not acquire concepts from a context automatically. This will require explicit attention both in the material and from the teacher in class. As another goal of context-based chemistry education, Pete now mentioned that students should be able to link acquired concepts. He noticed that students did not do this by themselves and he said: “Students need to learn this; it is a skill to discover structure in chemistry concepts.”
Before the development process started, Pete’s goals of chemistry education were general in nature, and in his view students would be able to pick up the concepts easily from a context. Class enactment showed that students did not automatically discover concepts, and did not learn how to link the concepts they acquired. In these aspects Pete’s goals evolved.
Lisa formulated the goals of chemistry education at the start of the development process in very general educational terms. For her, students should learn to appreciate chemistry and the role it plays in people’s life. She said: “students should develop the idea that one always deals with chemistry, and not perceive it as a weird and compulsory subject.”
After the writing phase she translated the goals in more concrete terms as is illustrated by the following phrases: “I hope that students can work independently and will enjoy what they do. They can work on own small research projects, for example to separate colors from sweets.” She also acknowledged cooperation within student groups as a specific goal, but this at the same time frightened her as she was concerned to lose control. Lisa was aware of the gender differences: “Students being more independent can do things they appreciate, but how girls experience it is to be seen, although the context ‘baking’ looks promising.”
Class enactment showed that students did not learn what was anticipated. The activities were carried out, but the students did not get the chemistry concepts clear. Lisa formulated this as follows: “Students became quite independent but did not always see what was meant. I think that this needs to be added, a kind of a summary of the concepts.” A bit later Lisa said: “Students hardly link concepts, also not previously learned concepts. Before this module students had learned a lot about safety in the lab, but did not link this to safety issues in this module.” Looking at the complete development process, Lisa’s beliefs about goals changed noticeably–from very general notions initially, to more pedagogic goals after the writing phase, to goals associated with learning at a conceptual level after class enactment.
Ed’s goals of chemistry education initially focused on meaningful chemistry and how chemistry positively contributes to people’s lives. He was quite outspoken in this as he formulated quite a number of broad goals. In the interview, Ed said that he wanted “students to learn more naturally in order to get more feeling and understanding from within towards the subject, which will create more ownership and sympathy.”
During the writing phase another goal emerged–the notion of differentiation and personal concept deduction. He said: “Students should be given the opportunity to develop the concepts themselves, I have some experience with it and it worked out well.” As the developed module was meant for the last term of the school year, Ed added as specific goal that students need to end the year pleasantly.
Finally, his classroom experiences strengthened the differentiation goals, and the concept development goals concretized as the students’ ability to transform concrete interaction with materials to an abstract level. Ed stated: “So this concrete, the interaction between the concrete and the abstract is extremely important.” In his view another goal would be to foster student’s confidence in the sense that they should experience being able to acquire knowledge themselves, something that can be elicited by starting from a concrete situation. Ed’s beliefs about the goals of chemistry education changed and matured during the complete development process.
The following section is devoted to what Pete, Lisa and Ed learned, research question 2. We will first present teacher learning during the writing phase, then in the class enactment phase.
Teacher Learning during the Writing Phase
Two categories of answers emerged: (a) about teaching methodology, and (b) about learning materials and chemistry content. A summary of the results is presented in Table 3.
Pete discovered cooperative learning as a methodology: “Specific attention for cooperative learning processes as such and the reflection that is explicitly incorporated is for me renewing.” A bit earlier Pete said: “I intend to use cooperative learning, including the group member roles and the logbook, and want to use the T-cards to teach cooperative skills.” This use of cooperative learning will enable him to move away from teacher centered classes: “Looking back I have been very teacher centered, in this module students will get more control.”
At a network meeting Pete said “I do not feel comfortable with the role-play where students act as atoms, join hands to represent molecules, and then cannot pass a door”. A bit later he said: “I would like to experience, to feel, how it is to do a role-play, can Ed demonstrate this for us?” Ed then explained the role-play and the teacher-developers performed it, and it was decided to include it in the material.
Pete also learned that starting with a context has potential or in his words: “I have forced myself to start with a context in the material and see what concepts will emerge… I am excited to see what it will bring for the students.”
Lisa focused on methodological issues in her responses. Although network meetings’ discourse continuously focused on student learning, Lisa was anxious about class enactment:
I find it a bit scary. Education was teacher controlled and now students have to come up with group activities themselves. In your own lessons you know from experience this will go like this and that like that, and students have difficulties with that section. Now you don’t have this knowledge in advance and honestly I have no idea where students are going to end up!
To this point her students did not work in groups, and in the interview before class use Lisa said: “I have never been enthusiastic about students working in larger groups, but these rotating group roles is an excellent idea.” At a network meeting, she also clearly articulated the advantage of larger groups for her own role in class: “The advantage of groups of four to five students is that it is easier. When groups are small and all come with questions to you, you get nuts.”
With respect to the learning material two issues are of importance to Lisa. First of all the use of a student logbook to monitor progress and to keep track of the student roles: “For each lesson one page. First students indicate the date of the period, the roles of all students in that lesson, planning, answers to questions, etc.” A bit later she stated: “It also helps students themselves to monitor the process and they can say, hey you were supposed to do this and did not do it.” A second important aspect for the learning material is the inclusion of open practical assignments. In the interview she said: “What I noticed last year is that during practical activities everything is ready and students sit down and look around to what the others are doing and copy this.” A bit later she said: “In the past students used all the things that were prepared…but now they need to think in advance about what to do and what materials are needed for this. That is attractive.”
Ed’s responses indicated that he learned it was possible to start from a context. It is not necessary to first explain the principles and then demonstrate these using a daily life example, as he often had done in the past as he observed in the interview:
…the concrete must precede other things—so first the context and then the concept and never the other way around. Yes, this was an eye opener and I must use this more often and I am doing this already. I no longer start with the tricks and thereafter the applications.
With respect to the learning material he noted that it is not always possible to find a good alternative for experiments: “I tried to find an alternative for the poisonous lead iodide, but did not succeed. Each alternative had shortcomings.” Ed also experienced that it was not easy creating and keeping internal consistency in the learning material, because a change at some point affected the rest.
Teacher Learning during the Class Enactment Phase
To organize the data the categories ‘teaching methodology’ and ‘learning materials and chemistry content’ were used. A summary of the results is presented in Table 4.
Pete was especially happy about cooperative learning, enabling him to assist individual groups. Although he noted that students initially did not cooperate effectively, and did not divide the tasks at hand:
I noted that three students watched a colleague who poured a solution in a beaker, another solution in a test tube and then mixed these in the beaker. Eight eyes then saw that the color changed to yellow. This took 10 min and was not very effective for four students.
Learning cooperative skills requires time and specific attention, as he said: “After some time cooperation did go better. Students knew their roles and adhered to these.” After each period he collected the logbooks and went over each of them. He marked the answers to questions, commented on performed activities, wrote down suggestions for the next period and question marked passages he was dissatisfied with. What struck him was that each group at the beginning of a period first looked at his comments and then rectified or supplemented those parts he had marked. He noted that “connecting to and building upon what students had done in the previous period occurred therefore automatically.” Pete did not use the role-play because he argued that by the time his students reached this section he believed it would not contribute to students’ learning.
An innovative element in the material for Pete was that “the module does connect to students’ life world.” Pete’s students were very positive about the module and worked enthusiastically and hard, “Sir, can’t we do this more often, and why didn’t we do this earlier” was one of the expressions used by students. Pete mentioned another strong aspect in the material: “Students had to look back at what was done, they had to sit down and consider whether they had done what was required, and if not think of how to solve it… there was feedback on their own action.” Students also had to carry the consequences when they were not properly prepared, so when students came to Pete asking what to do, he responded: “Well, that is something you should have done yesterday afternoon.” He learned that written instructions in the material need to be explicit and clear, if not students need extra teacher support: “What I noticed is that when the material contains clear instructions, you only need half the manpower. That is what I really learned.” Also with respect to cooperation in the groups the material has to be clear as Pete in a network meeting said: “What you see is that some students manage to behave in such a manner that the work is done by others. The assignments should be formulated in such a way that each member takes responsibility for it.” Because of time constraints, assessment of the leaning outcomes was not possible. The groups prepared a poster and presented this to their colleagues, but no time was left for a written test.
Lisa was particularly satisfied about the cooperative group work, both about the process and about the opportunities it provided for the teacher to monitor the content of the group work, or in her words: “The fact that the students had to consult the group and then continued working, and this cooperation worked out quite well.” The enthusiasm of her students strengthened her opinions regarding the usefulness of context-concept learning and cooperative group work. After each period she collected the logbooks, went over the students’ answers and made comments about the content and the progress: “In the logbook I jotted down how satisfied I was with their work.” She assessed students’ answers to the module questions by marking their logbooks after the module was completed. This resulted in leveling out of the final grades.
Lisa did not let her students do the role-play in her classes, as she did not think it would lead to a better understanding of the concept of chemical reaction, and she feared unrest in class during the role-play activity. With respect to the learning material she noted that the logbook is important as it enabled the groups to work rather independent from the teacher. She also noted that all groups were very active and enthusiastic, and attributed this to the open practical activities in the material.
For Ed, class use did provide insights that could not have been anticipated before. Ed did not use group roles, and also left the formation of the groups to the students themselves. This resulted in groups of two and groups of five, and one student even worked alone. Ed decided not to let his students use the group logbooks, instead, the students could use their own personal way of presenting their answers. At a network meeting he said about the logbook: “This should be kept short, from such an administration one gets nuts or it will take a lot of time.” Ed assessed this work after completion of the module. To monitor and influence the learning processes in class he sat down with groups and observed their discussions.
Although Ed advocated the use of a role-play to model a chemical reaction, his opinion has changed due to students’ reactions to this activity. He discovered that students’ ability to think in terms of models was poorly developed: “I don’t know whether students find it difficult or not, but they don’t switch between reality and a model.” The role-play did not contribute to a better understanding of the concept of chemical reaction. It did create class unrest as students had to walk around.
Learning material needs to explicitly solicit for concepts, if not little learning will take place. Ed said about this in the interview: “Students do not reflect on experiences. And it was not called for to do so, so the material needs to explicitly ask for this.” Assessment of the final learning results was oral; the marking of the students’ answers after completion of the module also played a role in the final grade.
Teacher Learning during the Complete Development Process
Pete’s conception about the locus of control in class changed during the development process. He was initially teacher-centered, but he agreed to try cooperative learning where the control of the learning process lies within the groups. After class enactment he was very positive about cooperative learning, especially the use of a logbook which offered him a strong intervention tool to monitor and direct the groups’ learning. His comments and marks in the students’ logbook enabled each group to continue with the module without constant teacher intervention. He learned that student centered education can be effective, and that students’ motivation increased when they perceive ownership of their learning process. Linking chemistry with students’ experiential world created enthusiasm.
Pete used his initial general beliefs, for example about students acquiring a concept in a specific context and applying this in another context, to develop concrete student activities. In class, he experienced that students had difficulties developing the concepts and discovering structure between these concepts. This calls for scaffolding activities in the module or teacher interventions in class. After class enactment he realized that clear instruction saves teachers’ time as students can continue their activities without help. His initial skepticism with respect to the feasibility of students developing concepts ‘naturally’ from a context has disappeared, as he is now convinced that this approach is possible. The network discussions during the writing phase contributed in this transition process, but the turning point was clearly the way students responded to the module.
Lisa’s views on cooperative learning changed. Although she wanted to be less teacher-centered, she was initially hesitant because of the freedom students had. She learned that students were able to work rather independently in cooperative groups, and that the group logbooks helped her to monitor progress. She was however critical about two aspects. Firstly, in her practice, student results leveled out, meaning that there was little variation in the final grades, and these grades were different from those obtained by individual students on previous chapters. Therefore she proposed to change the grading system. Secondly, she felt that other teaching methodologies besides cooperative learning should be used in a school year to ensure diversity to accommodate differences in learning styles between students. Her confidence to engage in unknown teaching adventures received a boost.
Contrary to Pete and Lisa, Ed did not use cooperative learning. Instead he used a question-answers method in class to reveal student learning. This could be the reason that he did not mention to have learned something from cooperative learning as teaching methodology. He advocated the use of a role-play during the writing phase, used it in class, but was disappointed about the learning outcome. In future, he intends to use this as an activity for those students who need additional support to grasp a specific concept. To start a learning process from a context was the largest eye opener for him. He was not sure how students would respond to it, but it worked out very well, not only the learning results were as expected but student motivation was also high.