Chapter 10: Problem Solving in the Chemistry Teaching Laboratory: Is This Something That Happens?
Published:17 May 2021
I. Hawkins, V. K. Hunter, M. J. Sanger, and A. J. Phelps, in Problems and Problem Solving in Chemistry Education: Analysing Data, Looking for Patterns and Making Deductions, ed. G. Tsaparlis, The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2021, ch. 10, pp. 217-252.
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There is much discussion surrounding the purpose and usefulness of the academic chemistry laboratory even as it remains a mainstay of most undergraduate chemistry programs. Allowing students to practice problem-solving skills beyond the algorithmic mathematical sort is one of the suggested purposes that laboratory could serve. This purpose is a departure from the procedural-based skills training often used to justify engaging students in laboratory (learning to titrate, for example). While technical skills are important, if part of what we are doing in undergraduate chemistry is preparing students for research, then somewhere in the curriculum there should be opportunities to practice solving problems that are open ended and laboratory-based. In this chapter, we recap the history of academic laboratory practice in the field of chemistry and review its current state to better understand how problem solving is or might be integrated into this important activity. Further, we consider how different aspects of laboratory approaches (including the purpose of doing labs, the instructional format of the lab, the costs associated with hands-on and virtual labs) either positively or negatively impact problem solving. We also describe the impact of practice on the quality of students’ problem-solving skills.