Programed instruction in high school chemistry

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  • Virginia P. Powell Programed Instruction - Niskayuna High School

    Schenectady, New York 1 High School Chemistry The high school chemistry course is

    designed to meet the needs of the person for whom this will be the only formal instruction in chemistry in his lifetime. It should give the student some understand- ing of nhat chemists believe about the nature of matter and energy, and why they believe these things to he true. At the same time the course provides some understanding of practical matters like storage batteries and plastics. On the other hand, the high school chem- istry course should provide a solid, systematic introduc- tion to chemistry for those students who plan careers in chemistry, engineering, the physical sciences or medi- cine. At Niskayuna High School chemistry students vary as n.idely as do the aims of the course. They range in age from 14-18 years since they are not divided according to grade in school.

    I t was for this diverse student population that the author wrote a linear program on the calculation of molecular weight. The format was simple; it was a paper and pencil program. The confirmation or correction of the student response was provided for by a cardboard mask. The results of these first programs substantiate what other investigators have found.

    To review these findings, first, there is a wide varia- tion in the time it takes students to complete a given set, 21 minutes to about one hour. This reflected a difference in speed of reading, in mathematical ability, and in study patterns. The girl with the 21-minute time has very quick reflexes. The boy who took an hour is deliberate in all that he does and is also a poor reader. He was in serious difficulty in the course be- cause he could not maintain the class pace. Programed instruction permits the student to work a t his own best

    rat,e instead of being paced by the teacher or by the fastest student in the class.

    Secondly, students mastered programed material better. Several days after the experience with pro- gramed instruction and with no further treatment of the calculation of molecular weights in class, the stu- dents took an unannounced quiz. The results of the quiz showed that grades were up 15-20 points. Some students made 90's for the first time in the course. Mastery of material is probably better because the student proceeds in small, logical steps. The program was also designed to give practice (or drill) in a sufficient number of problems so that the students were sure of the method and principle. They could not say "I have the general idea." Programed instruction helps to assure the teacher that assigned work is done and under- stood.

    The students were asked for cdmments and evaluation of this method of teaching-learning. In general they responded well to the use ~ f ' ~ r o ~ r a m s . It was not simply due to its novelty, for interest remained high in the subsequent sets they used. Comments ran, "I could see I was learning something." "I liked it he- cause I didn't have to wait for anyone else." "If I didn't understand something, I could stop and go hack and not get lost." "It was fun. I t felt good to know you were right." "You don't get a chance to practice your mistakes. If you are wrong you know it and know why right away." "You don't make the same mistake twice." And this remark which is an interest- ing comment on the lecture method, or the instructor, "It makes you pay attention. You,have to a n s ~ ~ e r or quit."

    One negative comment came from a very able stu- dent. "The uroarams stifled mv own way of thinkina.

    Presented at the symposium on programed instruction at the I had to do it th; program's way or not at all." his 124th meeting of the American chemical Society, ~ t l ~ ~ t i ~ city, criticism or reaction is given occasionally by the mature New Jersey, September, 1962. student.

    Volume 40, Number I , January 1963 / 23

  • Programed instruction can he particularly valuable for the poorer student. The programs were used with average, honors, and slower students. Niskayuna High School offers a course called Physical Science which is planned to give the nonacademic student some understanding of the principles of physics and chemis- try with little mathematical treatment. A colleague used programs on symbols of the chemical elements, calculation of molecular weight, and calculation of per- centage composition, with these classes.

    She found that the students learned more and made higher grades than similar students had ever done he- fore. In addition, they preferred the method of pro- gramed instrnction. In working through the programs they had the satisfaction of succeeding in school, an experience that they had seldom had before. It did take them longer, hut they could learn. Programed instruction is thus a valuable tool a t the lower end of the learning spectrum. By this method students who are slow learners have a patient tutor with unlimited time.

    The original program and additional ones have since been revised and retested. The author can confirm what others have found to he the benefits to the person who writes a program. The teacher gets immediate feedhack on which items are poor, pointless, or ambigu- ous. If 50% of t,he students make an error on item 16, there is nothing wrong with the students, hut with item 1G.

    The teacher becomes more self-aware. He recognizes that areas of instruction which are difficult are probably so because the teacher assumes the students know something which, in fact, they have not been taught. Or the teacher sees that his presentation of ideas and information is in too large blocks, or that misconcep- tions are not being corrected as they arise. The in- structor perceives, after writing a program, why his successful presentations ' have worked and becomes aware of the source and nature of his failures. It is an illuminating experience.

    After writing the first few programs and finding their value, the author envisioned programing the entire course in high school chemistry. It is not clear, how- ever, that this is possible or desirable in the present state of the art. As programed instruction is practiced today, it is a supplement to the live teacher and cannot substitute for him. In addition, programed instruction tends to deal only with verbal skills and ignores the laboratory and manipulative skills which are an impor- tant part of the course.

    Another mason that instruction on the high school level cannot he entrusted to programing exclusively is that most students of this age need human contact in the educational process. On the other hand, for cer- tain students the relative impersonality of programed instruction may provide a better learning situation.

    In certain topics which are simple and straight for- ward such as the calculat,ion of percentage composition, programed instruction can do the whole job-introduce the subject, teach the method, and provide a self-test for mastery. I t is excellent for teaching students how to solve specific types of problems.

    Programs also can teach relations among facts and provide for sufficient drill so that mastery is assured, for example, in a study of the relative reactivity of the halogens. Thus programed instruction in high school chemistry can he used to teach what and how. Pro- grams can also be used to teach the why, although it is much more difficult to write such programs. Consid- erahle skill and experience are required to write a suc- cessful program for deductive reasoning. Programed instruction can marshal the relevant information, pose the critical question, and confirm or correct the stu- dent's own deductions. I t can help him find out for himself. Ultimately, of course, he must learn how to collect the data, and formulate t,he questions for him- self. This too, can prohahly be programed. The possibilities of this method are just becoming evident.

    Working through a program can be assigned as homework, so that the teacher is confident of uniform mastery of minimum materials by the student before class discussion begins. Programs can also he used for review, for testing, and for remedial work. A student vho needs additional help can be given a program to do on his own, saving t,ime for the rest of the class and the instructor. Last year programed instruction enabled a student who was out for 5 weeks to stay up with his class.

    In summary, programed instruction in high school chemistry provides an additional tool for learning t,he what, the how, and the why. It can he used to intro- duce, teach and self-test certain topics. It can he used for homework and for remedial work. Another im- portant value is that it forces active participation by the stndent in the teaching-learning process. It shifts the responsibility for learning hack to the student, where it should be. Because it provides for a self- pacing logical sequence of small steps, and immediate confirmation or correction, it helps solve the problems created by the wide spread of abilities and interests among high school chemistry students.

    24 / Journal of Chemical Education