The impact of practical applications on students' mastery and motivation in chemistry
McGillen, Liane Noel
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Many of my students struggle with the content presented in chemistry and have difficulty staying motivated. In addition, there are many negative perceptions about chemistry that have been passed down from other teachers, parents and peers. As an Expeditionary Learning school students are presented with practical applications in order to master content targets in all subjects. In this study I investigated the use of practical applications in the chemistry classroom to determine if it had an impact on student content mastery/retention, student motivation and teacher motivation. In the treatment students “adopted” an element that is found in water and researched how the element impacts human health, as well as the basic structure, isotopes and Lewis structure of the element. The students also found the amount of their element in DC water (to try to incorporate a personal connection). Students were required to create an infographic (a graphic containing information) that incorporated all of this information. Finally, students presented their work to a group of experts (scientists, water experts and former chemistry students). Throughout the treatment, class time was split into mini-lessons and work time. Data collection consisted of pre, post and retention tests, analysis of learning target scores, teacher journaling, observations, student surveys and student interviews. All students completed the surveys, pre, post and retention tests and a select group of students were interviewed. My instructional coach and co-teacher completed observations prior to the treatment and during the treatment. The results from the study indicate that student content mastery and retention does increase with the use of practical applications. It also showed that teacher motivation increased; however, student motivation did not appear to increase with the use of practical applications. Based on these outcomes I plan to continue to use practical applications in my classroom, but in the future I would like to try to emphasize personal connections between students and the content to ensure that student motivation also increases.