TEACHING OF CHEMISTRY - LOGICAL OR PSYCHOLOGICAL?
Chemistry is regarded as a difficult subject for students. The difficulties may lie in human learning as well as in the intrinsic nature of the subject. Concepts form from our senses by noticing common factors and regularities and by establishing examples and non-examples. This direct concept formation is possible in recognising, for instance, metals or flammable substances, but quite impossible for concepts like ‘element’ or ‘compound’, bonding types, internal crystal structures and family groupings such as alcohols, ketones or carbohydrates. The psychology for the formation of most of chemical concepts is quite different from that of the ‘normal’ world. We have the added complication of operating on and interrelating three levels of thought: the macro and tangible, the sub micro atomic and molecular, and the representational use of symbols and mathematics. It is psychological folly to introduce learners to ideas at all three levels simultaneously. Herein lies the origins of many misconceptions. The trained chemist can keep these three in balance, but not the learner. This paper explores the possibilities, for the curriculum, of a psychological approach in terms of curricular order, the gradual development of concepts, the function of laboratory work and the place of quantitative ideas. Chemical education research has advanced enough to offer pointers to the teacher, the administrator and the publisher of how our subject may be more effectively shared with our students. [Chem. Educ. Res. Pract. Eur.: 2000, 1, 9- 15]