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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




Students' competence in some problem solving skills throughout their B.Sc. course



Mailoo Selvaratnam*

Faculty of Agriculture, Science and Technology, North-West University, Mafikeng Campus, 2735 South Africa




The main objective of the study was to test students' competence, throughout all their years (first, second and final years) of a B.Sc. course, in five important types of problem solving skills: information processing skills; skills concerning equations; graphical skills; three-dimensional visualization skills and inverse proportion reasoning skills. The study method used was the analysis of students' solutions to carefully designed questions. Students' performance was found to be poor for most of the skills tested. For example, more than half of all the students tested could not deduce information organized in equations, transform quantitative information in statements into equations and use inverse-proportion reasoning to do a calculation; and about a quarter of the students could not combine two equations and also could not visualize three-dimensionally the drawing of a cube. The study also showed that there wasn't much improvement in cognitive skills as students progressed from year to year. This suggests insufficient emphasis being placed on training students in cognitive skills in their courses. Since the development of students' competence in cognitive abilities should be an important objective of education courses, there is a need for explicitly identifying important cognitive skills and strategies and training students in them. Such training should be integrated with the teaching of content knowledge.

Keywords: Cognitive skills, thinking skills, problem solving, students' difficulties with cognitive skills



Full text available only in pdf format.




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Received 7 July 2011
Revised 15 September 2011
Accepted 20 September 2011



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