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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




Overcoming conceptual difficulties in first-year chemistry students by applying concrete teaching tools



A.F. (Fiona) Marais

Department of Chemistry, Tshwane University of Technology, Private Bag X680, Pretoria 0001, South Africa




Students entering university to study chemistry have difficulty understanding the concepts involved when attention is focused at the particulate level of matter. No-one can actually see what happens to individual molecules or atoms during any process of change and most means of explanation at the visible, or macro level are inadequate when describing behaviour at the particulate, or micro level. Structured worksheets and coloured Lego® building blocks were employed in order to facilitate understanding of the physical changes that water undergoes during changes of temperature. A sample size of 154 Foundation Programme students was used and the responses of these students investigated. A constructivist approach, enabling students to apply concrete reasoning in building their own knowledge, was evaluated. Students worked with interlocking building blocks to improve their understanding of molecular structure and behaviour. The students' academic performance improved when using these more concrete tools. This demonstrates that teaching is more effective when allowing visual and tactile senses to interact. It is therefore the purpose of this paper to substantiate the use of concrete tools, such as Lego® blocks, to help explain difficult concepts in chemistry, such as the behaviour of atoms and molecules.

Keywords: Chemical bonds, Lego® building blocks, concrete reasoning, first-year chemistry students



Full text available only in pdf format.



Dr Marietjie Potgieter (University of Pretoria) and Dr Thapelo Mamiala (North West University) are thanked for validating the suitability of the educational materials used during this study with regard to their use in the development of conceptual understanding of the fundamental concepts addressed.



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Received 6 April 2011
Accepted 3 June 2011



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

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