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South African Journal of Chemistry

On-line version ISSN 1996-840X
Print version ISSN 0379-4350

S.Afr.j.chem. (Online) vol.61  Durban  2008




Students' competence in intellectual strategies needed for solving chemistry problems



Helen P. Drummond*; Mailoo Selvaratnam

Department of Chemistry, North-West University (Mafikeng Campus), Private Bag X2046, Mmabatho 2735, South Africa




Many students' difficulties in solving chemistry problems are due to lack of competence in a few widely applicable skills and strategies. The competence of 300 first year chemistry students at North-West University, South Africa, in four intellectual strategies (clarification and clear presentation of the problem; focussing on the goal and identifying a strategy for moving towards the goal; identification of the principles needed for solution; proceeding step by step) was investigated, over a period of four years, by comparing their performance in 'standard' questions and 'hint' questions. The 'standard' and the 'hint' questions were the same but the 'hint' questions, in addition, suggested the strategies which should be used to solve the problems. Performance in all test items was poor, but improved in the 'hint' questions. The results indicate that about 80 % of the students were unable to use the required strategies, and also that many students who have the competence to use the strategies did not recognize the necessity for doing so. The results also suggest negative attitudes and lack of self-confidence in problem solving. There is therefore a need for specific training of students in the use of intellectual strategies. This should be integrated with the learning of subject content.

Key words: Intellectual strategies, chemistry problem solving



Full text available only in pdf format.




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Received 25 July 2007
Revised 15 May 2008
Accepted 16 May 2008



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