Studies on the Perception of Organic Chemical Structures

Kellett, Natalie Claire (1978) Studies on the Perception of Organic Chemical Structures. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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As part of an evaluation of the Alternative Chemistry syllabus, introduced into Scottish Secondary Schools in 1962, an investigation is made of learning difficulties experienced in one area of Organic Chemistry, "Condensation, Hydrolysis and Esterification reactions". An experiment performed in 1973 confirms earlier reports of poor pupil performance in tasks related to this topic. Two hypotheses are proposed, on the basis of observation of classwork and discussion with teachers and pupils. These suggest that pupils' learning difficulties may (a) have arisen because the pattern characteristics of extended structural formulae cause perceptual confusion, or may (b) be conceptual in origin. In particular, it is suggested that pupils' conceptual understanding of functional groups is inadequate. Two series of experiments, forming a critical test of the hypotheses, are described. The first involves the use of a series of immediate recall tasks. The pretesting of these materials and the validation of the associated scoring systems, carried out in 1973, is reported. The results obtained when these tests were administered to a representative sample of 1292 Scottish Secondary pupils are presented. 210 'H' Grade pupils participated in the second set of experiments. Measurements of pupils' ability to identify members of organic families are given. The results of a small scale interview are reported, and a comparison is made of pupils' performance on the identification tasks before and after using learning materials designed to lessen the effect of inadequate conceptual understanding. The combined experimental results indicate that pupils are not confused by the pattern characteristics of formulae, but that less than 10% of pupils (even at Sixth Year Studies level) have achieved an adequate level of conceptual understanding of functional groups. A third hypothesis is proposed, relating information content of tasks, their adjudged difficulty and pupils' conceptual understanding. Evidence consistent with this hypothesis is found in an analysis of the results of three independent studies. Recommendations are made concerning the teaching of Organic Chemistry, and the further testing of this hypothesis.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Science education, Chemistry, Curriculum development
Date of Award: 1978
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1978-78791
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2020 14:54
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2020 14:54

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