South African physical sciences teachers’ use of formulae and proportion when answering reaction-based stoichiometry calculation questions†
Stoichiometry calculation competence tends to be particularly poor in the developing world, even among teachers. Various methods, including the unit factor method, have the potential to be effective in developing such competence. To evaluate the likelihood of such a generic proportion method, which downplays traditional formula usage, succeeding in a particular context, it is necessary first to understand teachers’ existing competence with proportion and the extent to which their calculation success relies on the explicit provision of and substitution into formulae in their written solutions. This quantitative survey study of 171 South African Physical Sciences teachers’ use of formulae and proportion found that most teachers failed to recognise the need to use proportion for some of the four reaction-based stoichiometry calculation questions used. Provision of and substitution into a formula in the written solution was found to be valuable in helping participants who underutilised proportion to obtain process marks, but to be largely irrelevant to obtaining the correct answer. The findings suggest that professional development interventions in similar contexts should focus on proportion within stoichiometry, particularly on recognition of its relevance to reaction-based questions. While a generic proportion method is well suited to this purpose, questions are raised concerning the likelihood that teachers would accept such a method in a context where process marks favour traditional formats of formula provision and substitution and where process mark attainment is highly valued. The findings also point to the need for teacher education to address competencies other than proportion.