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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.64  Durban  2011




Chemistry students' competence throughout their BSc course in some problem-solving strategies



Mailoo Selvaratnam*

Faculty of Agriculture, Science and Technology, North-West University, Mafikeng Campus, South Africa




The main objective of the study was to test chemistry students' competence, in the first, second and final years of their BSc course, in some basic problem-solving strategies. Five strategies were tested: clarification and clear representation of problems; focusing sharply on the goal; identification and use of relevant principles; use of equations for calculations and deductions and use of a step-by-step procedure. The study method used was the analysis of students' solutions to questions that were carefully designed to test competence in problem-solving strategies. The study showed that performance was poor in all the problem-solving strategies tested and that there was no improvement in performance as students progressed from year to year. About a half of the students tested (average performance in all of the 11 questions used for testing) had difficulty in answering the questions. Possible reasons for students' difficulties are identified and suggestions are made for rectifying the difficulties. It is suggested that difficulties with the use of cognitive strategies are often not due to students' inability to understand and use them but to insufficient emphasis being placed on them in their courses. Since an increase in competence in cognitive strategies and cognitive skills canbe expected to lead to more efficient learning and problem-solving, not only in education courses but also throughout their lives, there is a need for training students in them until they become automatic and spontaneous mental operations. Such training should be integrated, throughout any course, with the teaching of content knowledge.

Keywords: Cognitive strategies, thinking, problem solving, students' difficulties with problem solving



Full text available only in pdf format.




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Received 28 March 2011
Accepted 9 May 2011



Submitted by invitation to celebrate 2011 the 'International Year of Chemistry
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