Comparison of beginner and advanced chemistry student teachers’ perspective on creativity – does it play a role in the chemistry classroom?

Liz Keinera, Nicole Graulicha, Richard Göttlicha and Verena Pietzner*b
aJustus-Liebig-University Giessen, Institute of Chemistry Education, Heinrich-Buff-Ring 17, 35392 Giessen, Germany. E-mail:
bUniversity of Oldenburg, Institute of Chemistry Education, Carl-von-Ossietzky-Straße 911, 26129 Oldenburg, Germany. E-mail:

Received 15th November 2019 , Accepted 31st January 2020

First published on 31st January 2020

Creativity has become an increasingly important competence in today's rapidly changing times. It is a central aspect of social development, but it is hardly discussed in schools and often neglected in the natural sciences. In order to promote creativity in science teaching in a targeted way, it is important to understand the perspectives and views of prospective teachers on this topic. For this purpose, a qualitative cross-sectional study was conducted with 83 German chemistry student teachers at the beginning and at the end of their study programme. We used concept maps and questionnaires to characterize changes in students’ perspective on creativity in the chemistry classroom during their course of study. The quantitative analysis of the concept maps and the content analysis of student's proposition revealed similarities and differences in students’ perspective on creativity between beginners and advanced student. All student teachers showed a diverse range of conceptions and views on creativity in general and in the context of chemistry education. Furthermore, almost all of the students had a positive attitude towards creativity and its integration in chemistry lessons. Although, there are no large differences in the perspective on creativity from beginner to advanced student teachers, subtle differences in students’ perspectives revealed that advanced students had a more sophisticated perspective on fostering creativity in students in their prospective classrooms.


Creativity is one of the key skills for meeting the demands of a modern, constantly changing society (Baumgartner-Schmitt, 1997). Without a creative momentum, innovations in science, business, culture, and the natural sciences are hardly possible. As the economy of highly developed countries depends on new innovations, creativity is of utmost importance in such societies. Creativity is therefore a central component of the competencies to be acquired. Surprisingly it is not an explicit component of current school and education policy. Especially science teaching holds a wealth of creative potential that is hardly to be found in any other subject (Kind and Kind, 2007). Nevertheless, many people associate creativity only with artistic, musical or craft disciplines, and languages (Aljughaiman and Mowrer-Reynolds, 2005; Kampylis et al., 2009; Newton and Newton, 2009). Science lessons, especially chemistry lessons, are often regarded as a purely logical and analytical science in which creative thinking is not important. This makes it even more crucial for teachers in the natural sciences to pay special attention to the promotion and development of creative processes (Newton and Newton, 2009). Chemistry teaching can be a starting point for promoting creativity, but it strongly depends on personal perspectives and views of the teacher. He or she sets the starting point for teaching creative thinking and has a great influence on the implementation and promotion of creative ideas in students (Kind and Kind, 2007).

Theoretical framework

But how is creativity defined and what distinguishes it?

The understanding of creativity can vary from individual to individual and to date there is no uniform definition for it, which makes it difficult to appropriately measure creativity, for instance in the chemistry classroom. What is ultimately regarded as creative depends on many aspects i.e. on society, its expectations, developments, or the spirit of the generation. In the course of time, a wealth of partly divergent definitions has developed. Guilford (1951, 1968) was one of the first to describe the term creativity. He claims that creativity and intelligence are not necessarily connected, but that creativity depends strongly on a person's motivation and mentality. He emphasizes inventiveness, sensitivity to problems, flexible thinking, originality, and novelty as important characteristics of creativity. Guilford considers creativity as something that theoretically could be attributed to any person. Since the 1950s, when Guilford published his highly acclaimed article (Guilford, 1951), researchers started to investigate creativity in more detail; resulting in five main paradigms: mystical, psychoanalytic, pragmatic, cognitive, and social-personality. The mystic approach has its origin in Hellenistic times; from this viewpoint creativity is a divine gift. Even today this view exists; it is visible in statements like “The Deamon is in the writer's pen” or “I was not master of my senses”. Psychoanalytic approaches like the ones from Kris (1952) or Kubie (1958) state that creativity arises due to the tension between consciousness and the subconscious. The pragmatic approach (De Bono, 1971) focuses more on how to provoke creativity. Methods like thinking hats or brainstorming were in the following promoted as fostering creativity. Many books have been published dealing with topics like “Think like [then naming a genius]”, how to do better management or how to evoke one's creativity just by doing certain exercises. Cognitive approaches try to investigate the mental processes underlying creativity. Leading research was performed by Finke et al. (1992) as well as Weisberg (1989, 1993). They state that there are two phases in the process of creativity. First a generative phase during which mental representations having certain properties are built. In the following exploratory phase, these properties are applied i.e. for creative inventions. Finally, social-personality approaches focus on the creative person with its individual prerequisites like motivation, intelligence, personal traits, as well as the person's environment (Barron, 1963; Mackinnon, 1965; Gough, 1979; Eysenck, 1993).

Rhodes’ (1961) definition summarizes how these components of creativity: the creative person, the creative process, the creative product, and the creative environment, are interconnected. He formulated: “Creativity describes the potential inherent in every human being to create something new and relevant to his or her environment through various metacognitive strategies based primarily on breaking out of known structures and recombining knowledge.

The quote illustrates the connection between the four constituent parts. Only the (social) environment enables creativity and evaluates what is considered creative. The idea of a creative environment resonates in the definition of creativity given by the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) (Futures, 1999) in Great Britain. They provide a practical definition of creativity as “imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value” (NACCCE, 1999, p. 30). Depending on the perspective, these four components are weighted differently. Economy, for example, is interested in creative products, whereas psychologists investigate what characterize a creative person. Pedagogy focuses on the establishment of a creative environment for pupils in class to promote creativity in a targeted way (Rhodes, 1961).

In science, creativity plays an important role, and it has been discussed widely (Dunbar, 1999; Sak and Ayas, 2013). The four main steps incubation, illumination, elaboration and evaluation of a creative process that are extendable to seven phases (Cropley and Cropley, 2008) are a common pattern when trying to find an answer for a phenomenon one cannot explain so far. For this, experiments are of central importance. A person that has scientific creativity therefore needs to have elaborated skills in planning experiments (Kulkarni and Simon, 1988), should be able to work on a topic one knows nothing about (Dunbar, 1993), and to develop hypotheses (Klahr and Dunbar, 1988).

In addition, creativity is also a relevant part of the Nature of Science (NoS) (Kind and Kind, 2007). Scientific advancements are often perceived as result of a creative process where imagination plays an important role (Abd-El-Khalick et al., 1998; Osborne et al., 2003). It is seen as an important part of science education to provide possibilities to be creative in the science classroom.

Fostering creativity in the science classroom

Many studies have been published investigating how to support pupils to develop their creativity (Hu and Adey, 2002; Lin et al., 2003; Aktamis and Ergin, 2008; Usta and Akkanat, 2015). Creative teaching is often associated with open-ended, student-centred, cooperative teaching strategies, project work, or learning opportunities outside the classroom. A special role is attributed to cooperative learning. It is often mentioned as a possible method to promote creative abilities; examples include egg races (Schanze, 2009), group puzzles, learning companies (Witteck and Eilks, 2006), and working-at-stations (Fasko, 2001; Schwarz and Lutz, 2004; Kind and Kind, 2007). Often these methods provide students with discovery tasks (Daud et al., 2012). These methods do not per se foster creativity, the design and the implementation of the respective lesson is decisive to foster students’ creativity. Students should be free to act independently, think divergently and act in a social setting (Hadzigeorgiou et al., 2012).

For example, a new topic could be introduced by experimental stations, where the pupils develop the experimental setup on their own (e.g., the instructions at the stations only give advice and hints, but do not explain setup or type of experiment). In this way, pupils expand their minds, deal more intensively with the experiments and the respective content and need to develop their own ideas. Because of such a learning environment, which encourages them to plan independently, pupils automatically reach a much more creative working phase.

Creative potentials are domain specific, therefore, they manifest themselves in different ways in the respective school subjects. In science lessons, creativity appears, for example, in generating hypothesis, planning, interpreting, reflecting, and revising experiments (Newton and Newton, 2009). Chemistry lessons provide the opportunity to develop and construct models independently, which in itself can be a creative process. Furthermore, working with models promotes problem-solving skills in new contexts, as the pupils have to apply and transfer their knowledge independently to new situations. This transfer can stimulate creative thinking processes (Sawyer, 2012). Fostering creativity can help foster students’ critical as well as divergent thinking skills. One method that can be found often in the literature is to use problem-solving tasks. Tasks that meet this requirement are open in the outcome, data may be incomplete or unfamiliar methods need to be used (Wood, 2006). One example given is the following problem: “Make some copper metal starting from copper(II) nitrate crystals. Normal laboratory apparatus and any other chemicals can be used provided that they do not contain any copper.” (Wood, 2006, p. 112). Another method is designing cooperative group work (Cardellini, 2006). The students were given chemistry tasks that cannot be solved by using formula of other defined solutions. One task that illustrates this method is the following: “A mixture of Na2S, Na2SO4 and CH3COONa weighing 25.19 g, contains 24.29% of S and 21.51% of O. How many grams of CH3COONa are contained in the mixture?” (Cardellini, 2006, p. 140).

However, knowledge about teaching method or inquiry-based teaching lessons do not per se foster creativity. In addition, teachers need to have a positive personal attitude towards the promotion of creativity and a mature perspective on it (Fautley and Savage, 2007), in order to be able to specifically promote creativity of pupils. Cachia and Ferrari (2010) showed that teachers in general hold positive attitudes towards creativity and think that it can be implemented in every subject (Cachia and Ferrari, 2010, p. 28). Students benefit when teachers show an overall positive attitude towards creativity because an atmosphere is created that promotes the creativity of the pupils. Often those teachers do not cling to fixed patterns, are open to new ideas, give pupils an open space to follow their ideas and act in a constructive manner.

However, only little is known about the situation in chemistry classes. Regarding character traits of students, Springub et al. (2017) could reproduce the findings of Westby and Dawson (1995) among German chemistry teachers. They value creative students but reject the typical character traits of creative children like being impulsive or making their own rules. In addition, the participants tend to follow a certain structure in their teaching, which hinders them to foster creativity suitably. These findings have relevant implications for teacher education and fostering creativity in the classroom. Therefore, it is regarded as indispensable to address creativity in the classroom within teacher study programmes. The nature of the inquiry process requires students to develop creative problem-solving strategies to test hypotheses, plan experiments, and interpret results. Student teachers’ perspective on creativity in chemistry lesson may influence future creation of creative environments in their own chemistry classrooms.

Goal and research questions

The views and concepts of teachers and students from the USA, Canada, China, India, Korea, and some European countries have already been surveyed and examined. For an overview of the studies since 1991 see: Kampylis et al. (2009) and Andiliou and Murphy (2010). According to Urban's 4P-U model (Society, 1995), creativity is closely connected to the cultural background. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate the situation in Germany as well. So far, there is little knowledge about the perspectives and understanding of creativity of German student teachers and whether and how they are influenced by their study programme. Semmler and Pietzner (2017) have obtained first results by investigating the understanding of creativity among German teachers and chemistry student teachers. Most of the students in their study were in the seventh or eighth semester of their studies and therefore comparable to our advanced students. The aim of this study is now to deepen this understanding and to further explore German student teachers’ perspectives on creativity in the chemistry classroom. This study aims to answer the following research questions:

(1) Which views and perspectives on creativity in general and in chemistry classes do German chemistry student teachers express and how are they interconnected?

(2) How do student teachers’ perspective on creativity in the chemistry classroom change throughout their chemistry education study programme?


Research instrument

To measure different aspects of creativity, many tests have been developed and validated. Runco and Okuda (1988) and Wakefield (1985) designed a test to measure the ability of divergent thinking. Hu and Adey (2002), and, Ayas and Sak (2014) focused on the scientific creativity of secondary school students, whereas Demir and Şahin (2014) investigated the self-assessment of prospective science teachers. Within this study, we do not want to investigate the extent of students’ creativity, but to explore their views and attitudes towards creativity in the chemistry classroom. A validated method for investigating attitudes and views on a certain topic are concept maps (Kinchin, 2013). They are generally structured two-dimensional representations of knowledge, information, and ideas on a topic. They consist of terms and meaningful relations that are established by connecting words. The connection of two terms with a relation is called a proposition. This represents an independent unit of meaning and is part of the cognitive structure. The concept maps serve us as a mean to capture the mental network of the students. The text-based concept map, which is part of the research tool, primarily refers to the semantic knowledge in memory and often cannot represent a complete picture of the understanding of a subject area of a person (Kinchin, 2013). A map can consist of different areas that can be connected by cross-links (Novak and Cañas, 2007). The way in which the individual terms in the concept maps are networked or linked represents the structure of the concept map. Yin et al. (2004) differentiate between five structure classes, which indicate a distinctive depth of understanding (see Fig. 1): a linear structure has an incoming and an outgoing term. The circle structure is a cyclic arrangement of terms. The star structure is formed around a central term, from which several propositions proceed. Typically, the terms are not connected to each other. The tree structure is made up of propositions that have several incoming and outgoing terms. The proposition is associated and connected with several words. The most complex structure of a concept map is the network structure. It forms a combination of several structures and links them together. For the structural analysis of a participant's concept map, first the centre of the concept map is determined, which often represents the term with the most incoming and outgoing connections. It can also happen that no centre can be identified. The structures formed reflect the network of terms in the mind of the students, allowing conclusions to be drawn about the depth and complexity of their understanding of creativity (Novak and Cañas, 2008). A network or tree structure with its many branches and cross-links stands for a deeper and more flexible understanding of creativity. With a chain, circle, or star structure, on the other hand, there are hardly any interconnections. Terms can easily be added later. Such structures often indicate a rather superficial understanding (Kinchin et al., 2010). A concept map is generally not limited to one of these structure classes and may combine several different ones.
image file: c9rp00262f-f1.tif
Fig. 1 Structures of concept maps, modified from Yin et al. (2005, p. 170) as well as the created scoring of the structure classes.

Additionally, we used a questionnaire, which was already used by Semmler and Pietzner (2017), to collect demographics, as well as, personal references, and attitudes towards creativity in the classroom. The questions were: (1) whether promoting creativity is an important goal in chemistry classes, (2) if creativity has already been integrated into the classroom setting, (3) whether creativity should play a major role in the person's own future teaching, (4) if creativity plays (or played) a role in their chemistry study programme, and (5) whether the person would describe herself/himself as creative. The participants could give additional reasons for the major role of creativity in their own teaching. Furthermore, they were asked to give examples of experienced teaching situations in which creativity has played a role so far.

Semmler and Pietzner (2017) combined the questionnaire and two concept maps in their study: an open-ended map as well as a structured map with given terms. For our purpose we focused on one concept map and used the questionnaire from the former study.

Setting and participants

The study was conducted at a German university in April 2017 with student teachers enrolled in the courses “Didactics of Chemistry I” (beginner students, BS) and “Current Aspects of Chemistry” (advanced students, AS). Both courses are part of the teacher training programme for secondary school as well as that for high school.

The beginner's course generally takes place in the second semester of their study programme. Students become familiar with the essentials of chemistry education and didactic concepts. Furthermore, they learn experimental methods using practical examples. The advanced course “Current Aspects of Chemistry” is regularly taken by the advanced students in their sixth or eighth semester, which is normally their last semester of their study program. The latter course focuses on the bridge between chemistry and everyday life and is characterized by its open design; it offers students multiple opportunities to express their own ideas. In this course students create their own explanatory videos on chemically complex everyday life phenomena and have only few guidelines for the video design.

Data collection

Before collecting data, we asked students for their consent. All students who volunteered for this study were informed about their rights and the handling of the data; informed consent was obtained from all students. The recruitment process followed ethical guidelines and ensured that students could opt out at any time during data collection (Institutional Review Board approval is not required at German universities). During data collection, students first completed the questionnaire and were given a brief introduction to creating concept maps based on a general example. They could use this as a guideline while creating their own map. This facilitated the construction process for students, who had little experience with the creation of concept maps. The map was created without any conceptual guidelines; students were asked to develop their own thoughts and ideas. Only the content theme of the maps was given (Creativity in Chemistry Lessons), which ideally formed the centre. However, since the term was not pre-printed in the map, it happened in single cases that students created a concept map with another term as the centre.

The editing of the concept maps was left to the students' discretion. They were evaluated anonymously but using a personally reproducible code. Students were informed in advance that they could not give any incorrect answers and that there was no time limit for constructing the maps. Table 1 shows the distribution of the students by gender, age, and semester.

Table 1 Demographics of the sample
    Student teachers
Beginner (%) Advanced (%)
Gender Female 65 64
Male 35 36
Age Younger than 20 39 0
20–25 57 83
26–30 2 3
31–35 2 14
Semester 1–2 72 0
3–4 18 25
5–6 8 11
7–8 0 46
9–10 0 14
<10 2 4

Data analysis

To build a comprehensive picture of the views of student teachers, the analysis of the study was carried out both qualitatively and quantitatively by following a mixed-method approach. We used triangulation (Flick, 2004) as a way to modify the method of concept mapping and added a qualitative method to the study to get complementary data. According to Flick (2004), the “Within-Method-Triangulation” as well as the “Between-Method-Triangulation” were used here. Referring to the former, the creation of the concept map about creativity was combined with answering open-ended questions. The open-ended questions should supplement the statements given in the concept maps by describing, for example, creative classroom situations or new aspects that are possibly not mentioned in the concept maps before. Furthermore, the questionnaire is used to gather statistical data, which can be analysed quantitatively and therefore complement the qualitative data analysis. Because of the explorative character of the study, we choose the cross-sectional analysis and collected the data at a specific point during student study programme.

Thus, we extracted quantitative data from the concept maps and determined the frequency and type of structure classes used in the maps by each participant. For an in-depth analysis of the data, the software IHMC CmapTools (Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, 2014) and SPSS were used to determine and score the structural classes of students’ concept maps and the quantitative analysis of the questionnaire. For qualitative content analysis, the software program MAXQDA was used, which is utilized for computer-aided qualitative data and text analysis.


The quantitative analysis of the concept maps included the total number of words and the number of propositions which were used per map. Furthermore, the most frequently used terms were counted, and the structures of the maps were analysed and expressed quantitatively in a numerical value. As shown in Fig. 2, a concept map can contain several structure classes. It shows a sample map which contains two tree structures, one star structure, and one chain structure. In order to make the structures of different maps comparable, an additional scoring system was applied by assigning points to the individual structure types within a map (see Fig. 1). For a more complex structure, students can obtain higher points (see Fig. 1).
image file: c9rp00262f-f2.tif
Fig. 2 Example map with one chain structure (green circle), two star structures (orange circle), and a tree structure (blue circle).

In addition, we examined how many content category codes were assigned per map and how many different content categories were covered with these codes. From these two numerical data (i.e. points for structure types and content category codes) a quotient was formed. The best value to achieve is 1, because if a participant received five codes and thus covered all five content categories, which were described in Table 2, this is an indication for a broader knowledge. The smaller the value, the fewer content categories were covered. If students have received many codes, but all are assigned to the same content category code, the knowledge is considered less diversified than if students addressed multiple codes. These values were summed up for each map of each participant. By combining the structure types with the number of propositions it is possible to make quantitative statements about the perspective and the depth of understanding.

Table 2 Categories for evaluation of the concept maps with an anchor example based on Semmler and Pietzner (2017)
Content category Code description Student example
Classroom management
Pedagogical concepts The category includes arguments that relate creativity to common teaching practices and pedagogical values in chemistry education Creativity is reflected in the design of the chemistry lessons
Methods The category refers to links between creativity and varying teaching methods or work assignments which are relevant for science education, especially typical for chemistry education in the classroom. Creativity in teaching requires the use of different methods which are important for the gain of scientific insights
Media & visualization Visualizations and representations of contents through the use of different media, visualizations and experiments is related to creativity in the classroom. Creativity in chemistry lessons through varied experiments
Consequences and effect
Consequence and effect Creativity is seen as a consequence or effect for other abilities, e.g. the strengthening of personality. It affects new things and leads to inspiring new perspectives and ideas in chemistry education. Creativity encourages thinking in chemistry education and practice
Creativity development
Development This code refers to the explicit development of creativity in pupils in science teaching and chemistry education Creativity promotes exciting and varied lessons that inspire pupils and develop creativity in them and the ongoing chemistry lesson
Teachers requirements
Requirements It's about the teacher's requirements and prerequisites, such as motivation, good preparation, variety of methods, flexibility of the teacher as well as fun in chemistry class. Creativity in chemistry class requires flexibility from the teacher
Fun Creativity enriches lessons and the pupils' willingness to learn chemistry increases. This code refers to argument's trough fun and the resulting consequences in chemistry education. Creativity makes learning fun and leads to more success and motivation in teaching chemistry
Motivation This code refers to arguments about motivation and its importance for learning chemistry. Creativity leads to motivation and a willingness to learn theoretical concepts of chemistry
Interest The code deals with interest and curiosity, as important parameters for successful learning and teaching in chemistry education and practice. Creativity in chemistry class increases curiosity and interest
Personal conditions This category includes personal requirements and characteristics of the teacher which can be an obstacle to the implementation of creativity in chemistry class. Creativity is predisposed in chemistry class
Institutional conditions External conditions such as rigid structures, prescribed curricula and limited room for manoeuvres in chemistry classroom design which can hinder the implementation of creativity are described. Creativity is limited by rules and regulations in chemistry education

Without considering the number of propositions, concept maps with complex structures and few propositions could be more valuable than maps with simple structures and many propositions. However, since the words of the propositions of the map represent the content, a concept map with many chain structures can represent a broad spectrum of knowledge.

Due to the multiplication of these two values, which were additionally divided by ten for better scaling, statements can be made about the complexity as well as the content of the maps. A high numerical value indicates the usage of more complex structures and many propositions. This suggests a deeper and networked understanding of creativity. While a low value speaks for few prepositions, no complex structures and little connections among each other.


The purpose of the qualitative analysis was to investigate in depth student teachers' perspective and understanding on creativity in chemistry class. The subdivision into different content categories is intended to give an overview of the students' perspectives and knowledge. Afterwards, similarities and differences between the two courses can be highlighted and compared with literature data. During the analysis, gaps in knowledge, accumulation of topics, and individual experiences can be determined.

To illustrate the content of a category, an anchor example is given below for each content category and code (see Table 2). Each example represents a selected proposition from a concept map; the words were grammatically adjusted to create a sentence. These examples illustrate that words chosen frequently to connect two terms are crucial for the development of a content category and the assignment of terms to the code. The coding schema of Semmler and Pietzner (2017) served as the basis for the development of the coding category codes. We specified and supplemented various aspects prior to the analysis. After the first analysis, content categories were added and specified again. We were interested to describe certain aspects in more detail, as we focused on comparing two cohorts at the beginning and end of their study programme, whereas Semmler and Pietzner (2017) were generally concerned with the understanding and perspective of one cohort. However, since differences between beginner and advanced students may probably not be noticeable in such a short time, we focused more on subtle details in the maps. We followed Semmler and Pietzner's (2017) results to create new codes. In the “Implementation” content category, for example, students often mentioned general pedagogical concepts, the use of different methods and experiments, as well different media. In exploring whether the repertoire of methods and implementation possibilities increased during their study programme, we divided this content category into three further codes, resulting in: Pedagogical Concepts, Methods, Media & Visualization. We summarized these codes under the content category “Classroom Management”.

Furthermore, we added three codes: Fun, Motivation and Interest to the content category “Attitude”. Here, as well, this enables a better description of individual aspects. As we were interested in comparing cohorts, we also developed the content category “Creativity Development” to capture if students refer to creativity development in pupils. In addition, the content category “Obstacles” were subdivided into personal and institutional ones, because it seemed important to us to distinguish whether the obstacle had a personal or institutional character for the students. This resulted in a new coding scheme, which is shown in Table 2. The table illustrates the individual content categories and codes with one anchor example.


In order to investigate the perspective of student teachers on creativity in the chemistry classroom at the beginning and end of their study programme, various quantitative and qualitative parameters of the concept maps were examined. Furthermore, we were interested in which aspects of creativity in the chemistry classroom change in chemistry student teachers’ perspective. In the following, we will first present the quantitative results, then the result of the questionnaire and the qualitative results of the study.

Quantitative results

The participants in both courses used different terms and proposition to express their perspective on creativity. The number of terms used varied greatly between the concept maps and between participants, ranging from 5 to 17 items in the first year (3119 total number of words) and from 4 to 20 items in the last year (1816 total number of words). This leads to an average use of 59 words per map at the beginning and 61 words per map at the end of their study programme. The number of propositions varied according to the number of terms. On average, 10 propositions per map were used by students in both courses; there are no significant differences.

The most common terms were, not unsurprisingly, creativity (BS: 250; 8%; AS: 153; 8.5%), student (BS: 65; 2%; AS: 30; 1.7%), and teaching lesson (BS: 55; 1.8%; AS: 20; 1.1%). Creativity was given as the topic for the maps and therefore represents a central aspect in every map. Most students used it several times per map. Furthermore, words like fun (BS: 40; 1.3%; AS: 15; 0.8%), interest (BS: 50; 1.6%; AS: 15; 0.8%) and variation (BS: 23; 0.8%; AS: 14; 0.8%) played an important role in the maps and were used frequently.

In the maps of both courses, on average six codes were assigned per map and evenly distributed over three predefined content categories. Over all maps, a maximum of 6 out of 11 categories was reached for the propositions. For an overview of the percentage distribution of each code, refer to Table 5. As described above, a quotient was calculated from the average number of codes assigned and the distribution among the various content categories (see Table 3). The quotient of both 0.56 (BS) and 0.55 (AS) shows no differences between the cohorts.

Table 3 Average number of codes assigned for the beginner and advanced students
  Student teachers
Beginner Advanced
Sum of all assigned codes 5.53 5.73
Number of different content categories 3.25 3.10
Quotient 0.56 0.54

Structure of the map

First-year student teachers used most frequently linear structures (41%) followed by tree structures (33%) (see Fig. 3). In the course of advanced students, the tree structure (41%) was most frequently used, followed by the linear structure (35%). Another commonly used structure in both courses was the star structure (18%) whereas the circle structure was used rather rarely (5%) in both courses. The network structure was only slightly used (BS: 3%; AS: 1%). Also, no significant difference between the courses could be found.
image file: c9rp00262f-f3.tif
Fig. 3 Percentage of different structures in the map.

Beside this general similarity between the beginners and the advanced students, the data shows that first-year students on the one hand tend to connect a larger part of the propositions linearly (U = 555.00, Z = −1.671, p = 0.095). Linear structures are often not interconnected and can easily be enlarged. On the other hand, advanced students use considerably more tree structures than first-year students (see Fig. 3). Tree structures connect and interlink the propositions from different areas with each other and often indicate a deeper understanding. Although these quantitative differences over all are marginally, the usage of structure types shows a slight tendency to an increased complexity in advanced semesters. This may be due to the fact that beginners have more problems than advanced students in linking their knowledge and establishing connections between different topics or that advanced students have had more experiences with concept maps, as it is a common teaching method used in didactic courses. To further estimate the underlying complexity of the maps, the type of structure was combined with the number of propositions used (see description of methods). For the beginner course, the average value is 14, whereas the advanced students reach 13.7. Here again, beginners and advanced students did not differ in their quotient of structure type and numbers of propositions.

In summary, there seems to be no significant quantitative differences in the concept maps that students created at the beginning and the end of their study programme. U-Tests show that there are no significant differences between the two groups. The content of the concept maps in terms of occurrence of words and word count in both courses differed only slightly. Only the usage of structure types shows small differences between the groups.

Results of the questionnaire

The questionnaire captures personal perceptions and attitudes towards creativity at school and during their study programme. Almost all students of both courses consider the promotion of creativity in chemistry lessons as an important goal (see Table 4). Among the advanced course, half of the student teachers (48%) claim that creativity has hardly played a role in the high school lessons they have seen so far in school visits. In the first-year course this perspective is higher, nearly two-third of the beginners (71%) claimed that creativity have been integrated in the lessons they have seen so far. One can assume that the advanced students may have a more differentiated perspective on creativity and thus may judge its presence less abundant in the chemistry lessons at high school. Almost all students claim that they want creativity to play a greater role in their own teaching.
Table 4 Results of the questionnaire of both courses
  Beginner students Advanced students
Yes No Yes No
Do you consider the encouragement of creativity to be an important goal of chemistry education? 98% 2% 86% 14%
Has creativity been integrated into the lessons you have seen so far? 71% 29% 52% 48%
Do you want creativity to play a greater role in your teaching? 96% 4% 90% 10%
Was creativity part of your study programme in chemistry so far? 35% 65% 90% 10%
Do you see yourself as a creative person? 70% 30% 48% 52%

More than half of the beginners (65%) in our sample report that creativity was not yet part of their study programme, whereas around 90% of the advanced students were already confronted with creativity during their study programme. This can be attributed to the study courses which were attended by the advanced students at this point. The two advanced courses “Current Aspects of Chemistry” and “Didactics of Chemistry III” include creative and independent working phases for the student teachers.

Notably, approximately two thirds of the beginners (70%) and half of the advanced students (48%) rate themselves as creative persons. This result suggests that over the course of their study programme, the perceived presence of the topic creativity in chemistry education courses increases, with a decrease in rating oneself as a creative person. This change in perceiving oneself as creative is also apparent when looking at the content category “Teachers requirements” (BS: 14%; AS: 3%). For beginner students, the number of propositions coded, which attribute an important role to the teacher in the development of creativity is higher, than the percentage of codes for the advanced students. They attribute a minor role to the teacher in the development of creativity. This resonates with the results obtained for their self-rating in the questionnaire.

Qualitative results

In addition to the structural analysis, the propositions of the concept maps were also examined via qualitative content analysis to describe qualitative differences of students’ perspective of creativity in the chemistry classroom between both cohorts. The different content categories represent different aspects of creativity in the chemistry classroom. We used predefined content categories from Semmler and Pietzner (2017) and added additionally codes which are described in the methods chapter above (see Table 2).

Table 5 shows the relative frequencies of the assigned codes in both courses. The most used content category in both courses is “Classroom management”. The least used content category is “Obstacles”. Furthermore, each code was used by both cohorts of students.

Table 5 Percentage of the different categories of both courses
Content category Code Beginner students (%) Advanced students (%)
Classroom management Pedagogical concepts 17 10
  Methods 2 2
  Media & Visualization 19 21
Consequences and effects   9 24
Creativity development   5 7
Teachers requirements   14 3
Attitude Fun 8 6
  Motivation 9 3
  Interest 10 5
Obstacles Personal requirements 3 3
  Institutional conditions 3 2
Not assignable   2 14


Students’ responses in the questionnaire indicate that the majority of the chemistry student teachers in our study have a positive attitude towards creativity in the chemistry classroom. They see promotion of creativity as an important goal in science education. A positive view of creativity is a requirement for promoting it in the classroom. Although they consider the promotion to be very important, not all participants see themselves as creative. About two thirds of first-year students see themselves as creative individuals, while this number drops among advanced students (see Table 4). It seems as if the reported presence of creativity in their study programme, may have initiate a more comprehensive idea of what it means to be creative and, thus, they judge themselves less able. In addition, due to their increased knowledge about lesson planning and creating learning environment, advanced students perceive the challenge of being a good teacher and may lose self-confidence in the process of their study programme and therefore underestimate their ability. Beginners by contrast have rarely (35%) been confronted with creativity so far but often see themselves as creative.

The results from our data analysis, furthermore, showed differences and similarities to the results reported in other studies about creativity. The studies by Aljughaiman and Mowrer-Reynolds (2005), Kampylis et al. (2009) and Newton and Newton (2009) found that many teachers consider creativity as an important part of teaching, but often do not localize it in science teaching. In our cohort, most of the propositions in the maps of both cohorts refer to the general content category “Classroom management” (BS: 38%; AS: 33%). In this category students often address general “Pedagogical concepts” (BS: 17%; AS: 10%), such as varied lesson or the use of different “Methods” (BS and AS: 2%) as a source of creativity. Mostly, they do not further specify in their proposition how or why variations of methods could be important for creativity per se or for creativity promotion in the chemistry classroom. The propositions mainly deal with overall design features and a pleasant teaching atmosphere in the classroom. The following quotation from a beginner illustrates the aspect of creative lesson planning: “Creativity is expressed through a variety of methods”. It is obvious that a rather vague pedagogical principle is addressed, such as the use of different methods, but it's not exemplified how this can be embedded in teaching. They hardly mention concrete methods or examples. Beginners in our sample have little to no practical experience and previously seldom opportunity to practise different methods in the classroom. The personal repertoire of teaching methods is not yet as well developed as that of experienced teachers. In many concept maps, student teachers from both cohorts regard the use of different methods alone as creative. Creatively using and diversifying units by different methods is often not sufficient to explicitly encourage creativity in the pupils. The advanced students more often mention specific tools and methods, such as: “Creativity provides variety through the use of different methods such as e-learning, internet search, and computer”. However, the propositions of the advanced students did not include as much chemistry-related aspects, e.g. mentioning the use of models or experiments.

When students mention experiments in their concept maps, they usually name the experiment only as a method, but rarely referred to its function in a creative classroom or to induce creative thinking in students. The following proposition shows an example: “Creativity in chemistry teaching means performing diverse experiments”. They do not address aspects of inquiry-based teaching, as well as the process of creatively gaining knowledge with experiments. Interestingly, the beginners and the advanced students did no differ largely in the specificity of their proposition.

Notably students’ perspective on creativity in the chemistry classroom seem to reflect the teaching style “Teaching Creatively”, according to NACCCE and known from literature (Craft et al., 2001; Craft, 2003) which combines very similar views for a successful implementation of creativity. “Teaching creatively” denotes a changed use of methods and media in teaching (Newton and Newton, 2009; Sawyer, 2012); Students from both cohorts mentioned frequently the use of different media and tools like smartboards or tablets in the sub-category “Media & Visualization”. Fautley and Savage (2007) assert as well that new technologies such as smartboards or tablets offer great potential to foster creativity in chemistry class.

In the content category “Teacher requirements” we noticed a difference between beginners (14%) and advanced students (3%). It seems as if the beginner students closely link aspects of creativity in the classroom to the behaviour and action of the teacher. Their perspective is prominently teacher-centred. They rarely mentioned the fact that the pupils must also actively be engaged in developing creativity. Frequently, they focus on the aspect of the creative teacher and attribute a big role to the teacher as the source of creativity. The following quote from a beginner demonstrates that he attributes a central role to the teacher in promoting creativity: “Creativity in the chemistry lesson is encouraged and practiced by teachers”. As highlighted by Kind and Kind (2007) and Safran (2001), the teacher is essential for the implementation of creativity in chemistry lessons, in terms of establishing a creative environment. Consequently, according to Kind and Kind (2007) and Safran (2001), the creative environment has a decisive influence on the possibilities of promoting creativity in learners. The propositions in the concept maps of the beginners do not specify further that the teacher creates creative environments, the students rather highlight the teacher as the one that is creative, i.e. creative in their lesson planning. Advanced students, on the other hand, attribute a much smaller role to the teacher. For the most part, they see being creative themselves not as a prerequisite. They often perceive the teacher as the “mediator” in promoting creativity, e.g.The teacher acts as a mediator in the classroom”, which is consistent with the perspective that Kind and Kind (2007) and Safran (2001) have outlined. The importance of the teacher being the “mediator” combined with a pupil-centeredness is also described in other studies (Fryer and Collings, 1991; Fasko, 2001; Craft, 2005; Kind and Kind, 2007). They highlight that the teacher may only act as a moderator for the development of creativity among the pupils and that the pupils should work and think independently. Craft (2005) and Sawyer (2012) and Newton and Newton (2009) stress that pupils themselves have to think divergently in order to develop new ideas and that the teacher can only support the pupils in the development of creativity by accompanying them.

The category “Creativity Development”, which is extremely important, was covered alarmingly low in both courses. The understanding of how creativity can be encouraged in the pupils is essential in order to be able to implement it in one's own teaching. In this category, we were particularly interested in the comparison between both cohorts and wanted to investigate whether the perspective changed during their study programme or not. Compared to differing perspective in the category “Teacher requirement”, we could not see large differences between the two cohorts. Both cohorts only slightly mentioned the importance of supporting the development of creativity in chemistry education. Advanced students (7%) and beginners (5%) hardly expressed specific ideas on how to specifically promote the creativity in pupils. There seems to be a discrepancy between what they believe is in general a prerequisite in promoting creativity, e.g. creating environments and how they could actually achieve it.

A difference in the frequency of codes can be found in the category “Consequences & Effect”. Advanced students (24%) have a more distinct understanding of these relationship, whereas beginner students (9%) still describe more general pedagogical concepts. Creativity requires experience and practice to be regarded as the basis for further abilities and skills. Beginners have few practical experiences; they may not be familiar with the consequences and effects of creativity. It was noticeable positively that most beginners mention only favourable effects of creativity which is a good basis for its promotion. The following quotation from a beginner illustrates a general positive effect of creativity and emphasizes a consequence for pupils’ interest in chemistry: “Creativity in chemistry teaching makes students love chemistry”. In contrast, advanced student teachers argue more precisely and relate it to students’ engagement in the classroom: “Creativity means variety, which encourages pupils actively engagement in chemistry lesson”.

Many propositions from both cohorts have been assigned in the category “Attitude”, which is divided into fun, motivation, and interest. With a total of 27% for first-year students and 14% for advanced students, this category represents a difference between the two cohorts. It is obvious that beginners use more buzzwords like fun, interest, and motivation in their maps than advanced students. In many cases, they do not explain how they could combine these aspects (fun, interest, motivation) with creativity in order to integrate it into the lessons in a meaningful way. Quotes like: “Creativity motivates the student”, formulated by a beginner, are quite general and do not further explain how and why creativity motivates the pupil. Advanced students use less buzzwords. As shown above, they already name more effects and consequences. The perspective of the advanced students is more differentiated in this area. What is striking at this point is that advanced students have significantly fewer arguments with regard to motivational effects. Perhaps they take a differentiated view of the promotion of creativity and therefore put forward fewer arguments relating to such general principles as motivation. But admittedly to Simonton (2004) and Fasko (2001) motivation is a particularly important feature in promoting creativity.

Only few arguments fall under the category “Obstacles”, which is divided into “Personal requirements” and “Institutional conditions”. The students of both groups have little practical experience with obstacles, i.e. they have not yet experienced possible institutional boundaries or obstacles. However, few students recognized that general institutional conditions, school curricula, the specification of institutional structures, and rules can be major obstacles for the development of creativity. The teachers from the study by Cachia and Ferrari (2010) share this view as well.

Another important aspect for the promotion of creativity is the aspect of time. Fasko (2001) describes taking time as an important factor for triggering creative processes. But it is precisely this aspect of taking time that is an obstacle to implementation for many students. It requires a lot of time in preparation as well as in teaching to encourage creativity. The following quote: “Creativity requires a lot of time” illustrates that students consider being creative time-consuming and therefore often feel that they cannot implement it. Sometimes teachers cannot take enough time for creative phases because they have to adhere to the curriculum or follow school regulations. Therefore, many teachers do not consider this as a goal of their own teaching.

A further aspect, that hinders teachers to focus on creativity in their teaching, is the difficulty of assessing creativity. Cachia and Ferrari (2010) found in their study that teachers often question and critically examine the assessment of creativity. They often consider it as an obstacle to implement it in their own teaching. The students of both courses rarely discussed the assessment of creativity. Presumably, they have not yet been confronted with the situation of assessing creativity in pupils.

Joubert (2001) shares the view that creativity can be limited by assessment and should thus primarily take place in free work phases without grading. He emphasizes that pupils' self-evaluation plays a central role in the development of creativity. These aspects weren’t mentioned by our students.

Social conditions and social environment, and intrapersonal characteristics are considered by Feldman (1999), Torrance (1963) and Guilford (1968) as important factors influencing the promotion of creativity. Unfortunately, these aspects were seen in our maps only as an obstacle to being able to implement creativity. In particular, the personal qualities of the teacher are perceived by the students as an obstacle to the implementation of creativity. The following quote: “Creativity is congenital” illustrates that some see creativity as an inherent trait. Naturally, this contradicts the findings of the literature, because in principle anyone can be and develop or learn creativity to some extend (Guilford, 1968). When students see creativity as predetermined, it becomes difficult for them to encourage creativity in their pupils. Especially at such points students have to experience that being creative can be learned.

In comparison to other studies dealing with chemistry student teachers’ perspective on creativity in the classroom, we can find many similarities, but as well some differences. Quantitatively, student teacher in Semmler and Pietzner's (2017) study used approximately as many words as our participants, but they created more links and connections between the individual items. Frequently used words in the study of Semmler and Pietzner (2017) were creativity in chemistry teaching, experiments and motivation. In our study, more general phrases such as students, fun, interest and diversity were frequently mentioned. The structures used in the maps vary greatly between the two studies. Semmler and Pietzner's (2017) students often used the network structure and were thus able to connect their items with various propositions and words. Our participants, on the other hand, often used the linear structure and could not establish links between the individual items and the propositions.

Both studies have in common, that almost all students have a positive attitude towards creativity and are willing to include creative phases into their own teaching lessons. In both studies, many answers relate to the embedding of creativity in the classroom. Semmler and Pietzner (2017) point out that their participants could only link different aspects of teaching with creativity with much difficulty. The knowledge was board but went seldom into detail. The importance of the cultural background could be shown in another study comparing chemistry teacher students from Germany and Japan (Semmler et al., 2018). Here, the Japanese students stressed more often the importance of creativity for the future life of school students, especially in the context of their future professional career. In addition, they have a better understanding of using creativity in scientific and technical professions. However, the results indicate that creativity seems to play a minor role in Japanese science classes.

Conclusions and implications

This cross-sectional study sought to shed light on changes in chemistry students’ perspective on creativity in the chemistry classroom, by comparing two cohorts from the beginning and the end of their study programme. Analysing students’ concept maps and the questionnaire can only represent a snapshot of students’ knowledge and understanding of creativity. The student teachers held various perspectives on creativity in the chemistry classroom, however, their propositions in the concept maps did not further refer to challenges inherent to teaching chemistry. Their statement often remained more general, with reference to classroom management of general teaching methods. Links to students’ misconceptions in chemistry, inquiry lesson, or scientific practices were alarmingly low.

The network of terms and propositions within a map illustrates how the personal attitude and the understanding of creativity evolve over the study programme. Furthermore, student teachers’ views in our sample correspond in some cases to the results reported in other studies with student teachers or teachers, but reveal as well opposite perspectives, that may be a result of their study programme

In our study, a positive aspect was that all participants from both cohorts have a broad knowledge of creativity which covers different aspects and that, in contrast to other studies (Aljughaiman and Mowrer-Reynolds, 2005; Kampylis et al., 2009; Newton and Newton, 2009) they do recognize the importance of creativity in science education.

The structural analysis demonstrate that students associate many general teaching concepts and methods with creativity, however, they often do not link them effectively together or specified their proposition with more detail or examples, like the participants of the study of Semmler et al. (2018). They mostly mentioned positive effects of incorporating creativity into chemistry teaching but missed to refer to explicit ways of implementing and encouraging it in pupils or mentioned chemistry specific challenges or opportunities to incorporate chemistry in the classroom. Some examples are already tested in German classrooms (Schanze, 2009; Witteck and Eilks, 2006) and indicate gaps in their study programmes.

The results clearly revealed that students held a positive attitude towards creativity in general, what can be found also in previous studier (Cachia and Ferrari, 2010; Semmler and Pietzner, 2017; Semmler et al., 2018). Almost all students stated that they want to integrate creativity into their own future teaching. This might be a sufficient justification for further educational efforts in this field, since the implementation of creativity in the classroom strongly depends on teachers’ attitude. However, the results show that a demand exists for explicitly emphasizing creativity, as an integral part not only of teaching, but especially teaching chemistry.

This demand is also apparent in the finding that some of the students, especially advanced ones, did not believe themselves to be creative. Without a positive confidence on this topic, it will be difficult to encourage creativity in others.

To sum up, students of both cohorts provided different aspects of creativity in their maps. We could see a slight difference in the perspective of creativity among the student teachers from the beginning to end of their study programme. The knowledge and perspective of advanced students seems to be differentiated and more precise in some areas. They name less general pedagogical concepts in the maps, but more causes and effects of creativity. Due to experience, personal development, and increased competence, the advanced students have a more mature perspective in some content areas than beginners.

Creativity is until now not an explicit aspect of student teacher education, but it should be explicitly addressed and included as an integrative component in the chemistry education curriculum. Students need opportunities to reflect on creativity and on its role in the chemistry classroom.

Creating concept maps on creativity can serve as a basis for an intensified discussion of the topic in chemistry education classes. The creation of concept maps at the beginning of the seminar could be used to later reflect on one's own view of creativity.


The comparison between students at the beginning and end of their study programme did not take place with the same cohort of students. As a result, it is natural that students may have different knowledge due to different starting conditions. However, the structure and the course content haven’t changed during their study programme – the advanced students attended the same courses as the beginners. It also should be kept in mind that the study has a more explorative character because there is only little knowledge about how the views and perspectives on creativity among prospective chemistry teachers develop so far.

We are aware of the fact, that we can only depict the perspectives of preservice chemistry teachers at a tertiary institution in our study. It would be interesting to conduct a similar study in a teaching classroom context and to discover how the perspective changes and the participants behave. Such a study would add further insights into teachers’ perspectives. Furthermore, it would be interesting to follow up on the study participants after they have had some teaching experience.

Furthermore, although the participants were under observation during the whole study, it cannot be completely excluded that they took over aspects of the neighbors.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts to declare.


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