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Chapter 3

Johnstone's Triangle: Why Chemistry Is Difficult

Building on a wide range of research evidence, Johnstone looked at the discipline of chemistry from the perspective of the learner and realised that it involved three levels of thought. There was the descriptive (the macro): what could be accessed through the senses. There was the sub-micro (human attempts to interpret the observations). There was the representational (how we seek to portray our understandings). His key insight was that the known limitations of working memory capacity made it extremely difficult for the novice learner to work at all three levels at the same time. The fixed and limited capacity of the working memory controlled the extent of understanding. This led on to the appreciation that the very nature of a subject like chemistry often required thought at multiple levels and that thinking at three levels was almost always going to create working memory overload, understanding being the inevitable casualty. The implications of this insight affect all aspects of learning in chemistry.

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29 Jan 2021
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