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STUDENTS’ ALTERNATIVE CONCEPTIONS ABOUT ATOMIC PROPERTIES AND THE PERIODIC TABLE IN SENIOR SECONDARY SCHOOLS

 

CHAPTER ONE

Introduction

  • Background of the study

Atom has several different versions, known as isotopes, in which there are different numbers of neutrons in the nucleus. For example, hydrogen usually only has one proton and no neutrons, but an isotope known as deuterium or “heavy hydrogen” also contains one neutron. The first periodic table created to help arranging the atomic elements into columns and rows. Atomic elements in the same columns and rows have certain properties in common. For example, atoms in the rightmost column, known as the noble gases, may differ greatly in mass from light (helium) to heavy (such as radon), but what they have in common is that they don’t ordinarily participate in chemical reactions, Kurzman & Towle, (2006).

Students possess countless alternative conceptions about science in general and chemistry in particular. These alternative conceptions are related to the fact that students bring to science views, theories and explanations that are different than those held by scientists Francisco, J.S; Nicoll, G. & Trautman, M (1998). These alternative conceptions are developed at the early stages of education and an individual keeps building on their alternative conceptions. Concepts that the students build about the atomic properties could be aligned with what is scientifically agreed upon or can differ from it. In this paper, we will refer to those that differ as alternative conceptions Francisco, J.S; Nicoll, G. & Trautman, M (1998). In spite of those alternative conceptions, students rely on algorithms to solve problems. Misconception or alternative conceptions is defined as Nakhleh, M.B. & Krajcik,J.S., (1994), any concept that differs from the commonly accepted scientific understanding of the term. Nakhleh also states that, “Once these misconceptions have been integrated into a student’s cognitive structure, these misconceptions interfere with subsequent leaning. The student is then left to connect new information into a cognitive structure that already holds inappropriate knowledge.” The alternative conceptions that students develop can hinder their conceptual understanding. Conceptual understanding ensures that a student will not forget the material that they have learned. Whereas memorization of a method to solve a chemistry problem will be forgotten as soon as the course is complete Martins-Omole, M.I (2002). Once students have these alternative conceptions it is difficult to change it. Science education researcher, Martins-Omole, M.I (2002) has found that young children develop intuitive ideas and beliefs about natural phenomena. As they learn more about the natural world they develop new or revised concepts based on their interpretation of this new information from the viewpoint of their existing ideas and belief. If students encounter new information that contradicts their alternate conceptions it may be difficult for them to accept the new information because it seems wrong. For this reason instructors should try to address briefly the concepts behind the algorithmic problems which could improve students’ conceptual understanding of the topics. Some students resist changing their views and explanations in conventional teaching or lecturing classrooms. Researchers Cohan, G. (2010) also found that students in science and math have been consistently trained algorithmically, rather than conceptually.

  • Statement of the problem

Therefore, when students are exposed to a different type of instructional and assessment method, they tend to be resistant. The reason teacher-centered, lecture-based courses, do not cause conceptual change is because they do not address the basic principle that knowledge is constructed in the mind of the learner Olayiwola, M. A, (2001). One of the earlier papers in chemistry education research Oyelekan, S.O & Olorundare, A.S (2009) speak about how most educators see solving chemical problems to be the major behavioral objective of freshmen chemistry. It also showed that textbooks were written from this point of view, and this may be what establishes the supreme importance of numerical problems in student minds. Science educators, Pagliano, P. (1998),

Ozmen, H&Ayas, (2007) have found that students were able to do algorithmic problems but struggled with answering conceptual problems. Their studies found that many students could not use chemical concepts to solve conceptual problems. Also the results of Nakhleh’s studies found that conceptual problem-solving ability lagged far behind algorithmic problem solving ability. Once again memorization is the skill that students utilize to solve problems because that is the way they have been instructed. Work by Nakhleh and Mitchell, Nakhleh, M.B. el at, (1994), states, “It does not seem that presenting an algorithm and demonstrating the myriad of problems that can be solved using that algorithm facilitate understanding of the underlying concept.” Other researchers offer an explanation for why some students choose to memorize rather than develop a conceptual understanding. For example, work done by Bunce illustrated that students enter chemistry classes with many insecurities and fears about their ability to be successful in chemistry, Burke, K.A; Greenbowe, T.J & Windschitl, M. A. (1998). And these fears often result in students choosing memorization rather than understanding as a way to succeed and earn an acceptable grade. The lack of conceptual understanding inhibits students from performing to the best of their abilities. In one study, Ying, Y. (2003), the results showed: “… success on algorithmic questions was always higher than on conceptual questions, verifying the results of previous studies. Additionally, the students with better reasoning ability outperformed students with poorer reasoning ability on all question types, and the scores of the better reasoners were significantly higher than those of the poorer reasoners on three of the four conceptual questions administered.” If students possessed better reasoning skills, which are based on a thorough conceptual understanding, then students would perform better on not only algorithmic problems but also conceptual problems. Cognitive research shows that when students construct their own knowledge they achieve a better conceptual understanding of chemistry Stepans, J (1994). During the learning process, students use their experiences and knowledge to construct an understanding and achieve sense making. This process is facilitated by the interactions they have with their instructors and peers, which present conflicts of thoughts and ideas that help students modify their thought processes Resnick, L.B (1987). Concepts that the students build about the atomic theory could be aligned with what is scientifically agreed upon or can differ from it.

1.3  Objective of the study

The major purpose of this study is to examine the students’ alternative conceptions about atomic properties and the periodic table in senior secondary schools. Other general objectives of the study are:

  1. To investigate the alternative conceptions students possess about atomic properties and periodic table.
  2. To examine the role of mnemonic use, regurgitation, and memorization in answering questions about periodic table.
  3. To examine the effect of alternative conceptions students possess about atomic properties and periodic table.

1.4  Research Question

The following research questions will be addressed as part of this study:

  1. What types of alternative conceptions do students possess about atomic properties and periodic table?
  2. What is the role of mnemonic use, regurgitation, and memorization in answering questions about periodic table?
  3. What is the effect of alternative conceptions students possess about atomic properties and periodic table?

1.5 Hypothesis Questions

  1. There is no significant alternative conceptions do students possess about atomic properties and periodic table.
  2. There no significant role of mnemonic use, regurgitation, and memorization in answering questions about periodic table.
  3. There is no significant effect of alternative conceptions students possess about atomic properties and periodic table.

1.5  Significance of the study

The findings of this study would be beneficial to the researchers, Ministry of science and technology, and students.

The findings would provide useful information to the teachers and lecturers on the appropriate strategies to be adopted that will bring about effective teaching and learning process.

This study would also be significant in the sense that its finding would serve as reference materials for future researchers to carry out further studies in the field of knowledge under study.

The educators would benefit from the findings of this study in view of the revealed indices on students altitude about atomic properties and periodic table which will form the basis of their seminar/workshop on teachers training and retraining. Finally, the outcomes of this research would be of immense benefits to students of department chemistry because its revealed information on the use of mnemonic, regurgitation, and memorization in answering questions about periodic table.

1.6  Scope of the study

The study was delimited to students’ alternative conceptions about atomic properties and the periodic table in senior secondary schools.

1.7  Limitation of the study

In every research work, it is likely that the researcher may encounter some limitations. The researcher encountered some challenges during the period of carrying out this research. Some of these challenges include the dearth of materials for a proper and effective research work constituted a major limitation. Again, how to get the true and required information from the respondents through questionnaire also constituted a constraint in the study.

STUDENTS’ ALTERNATIVE CONCEPTIONS ABOUT ATOMIC PROPERTIES AND THE PERIODIC TABLE IN SENIOR SECONDARY SCHOOLS

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