A scientific approach to the teaching of chemistry. What do we know about how students learn in the sciences, and how can we make our teaching match this to maximise performance?
Around 1960, there were quite radical changes in emphasis in many countries in school chemistry education, with subsequent changes in many university courses. Considerable research was undertaken to explore the learning problems students were reporting and the common thread underlying became apparent: it related to the way humans process new information. From this research evidence, a model of learning was developed. This new model explained and interpreted the data but it also was used to predict how to bring about considerable improvements. All humans learn in essentially the same way and learning can be highly efficient and effective. If learning situations are not consistent with the way students learn, then problems can be expected. The curriculum revolutions of the 1960s had inadvertently brought about such inconsistencies. Many students were losing confidence and many countries reported a drop off in numbers choosing chemistry. The model of learning has been used to predict how improvements can be made in lecture type learning, laboratory learning, problem solving, and in curriculum construction and presentation. The research results have been quite remarkable, with quite dramatic improvements in performance being reported along with large changes in student attitudes. This paper summarises some of these results and to show how great improvements in learning (defined in terms of understanding) can be achieved simply by changing teaching approaches in line with the predictions from the model.