The research shows that one of the key factors in improving the learning process effectiveness is a guided and structured activity of students. Whenever sensible and feasible, students should develop knowledge by being active, mentored by their teachers and participating in well-thought-out exploring schemes. Guided Active Learning in Chemistry (GALC) is an educational approach in which activities are not only described but also performed during Chemistry lessons.
The doctoral dissertation discusses the impact of using the GALC educational approach, which does not only concern the study of its impact on the quality and durability of electrolyte knowledge of thirteen-year-old students, but also studies the effects of other variables that can further support the quality learning of chemical concepts by implementing the GALC approach in teaching Chemistry. The variables are the students’ formal reasoning abilities, and the students’ attitudes towards chemistry, collaborative learning, and GALC educational approach (situational interest). During and after the implementation of the GALC educational approach, the students' conceptual pathways of the electrolytes concepts development were studied on a smaller sample of the selected students. In order to determine the effects of GALC educational approach on chemistry teaching, the learning modules for acquiring the subject matter on acids, bases and salts using the GALC educational approach, were initially developed. Before being used in the main study, all research instruments had been optimized in a pilot study (i.e. learning modules, questionnaires, TOLT and achievement tests).
The sample consisted of 383 primary school students whose average age was 13 years and 12 of the participating students’ teachers, with an average 23 years of teaching experience, and being located in mixed geographical and residential (urban, suburban, rural) areas of the Republic of Slovenia. Based on the students’ pre-knowledge and formal reasoning abilities, the participating students were divided into experimental and control group, i.e. two groups. The students in the experimental group studied electrolytes according to the GALC educational approach, and the students in the control group received traditional chemistry lessons. During the course of the research, the students together with their teachers in the seven GALC learning modules (ten lessons) discussed the content of the acids, bases and salts. Immediately after the GALC teaching and learning process (the implementation of electrolyte concepts) had been finished, the students took an achievement test. The post-tests were delivered after one and four months to prove the differences between the groups in the quality and durability of the students’ knowledge on electrolytes. In addition, a sample of the students within the experimental group was selected. This was closely monitored in their varying interests for learning within GALC groups and their attitudes toward chemistry and collaborative learning. The data from interviewing 15 students of the experimental group was analyzed in-depth to obtain the conceptual pathways of electrolytes concepts development.
Statistical analysis of the achievement test and the post-tests results shows that there is a statistically significant difference between the results of the experimental and control group. The students of the experimental group have outperformed the students in the control group. Therefore, it can be assumed that the quality and durability of the students’ knowledge of electrolytes gained with the GALC educational approach is more comprehensive than that acquired during traditional chemistry lessons, which focused on electrolytes. The results also show that the students with higher levels of formal reasoning abilities achieved statistically significantly higher results on the achievement tests and the post-tests than the students with lower levels of formal reasoning abilities. In addition, the results show that the GALC educational approach is effective both for the students who are still at the concrete level of thinking as for those who have already reached the formal reasoning level, since both groups have shown statistically significantly higher results compared to the students of the control group of the same level of reasoning abilities. In addition to evaluating the effectiveness of GALC educational approach in terms of concepts understanding, the results of the study also show that during the implementation of the GALC educational approach, the attitudes of the experimental group towards chemistry have not changed. After completing the teaching process in which GALC learning modules had been applied, the students’ attitudes towards collaborative learning did not change in comparison with the initial measurement. The results also show that the students of the experimental group demonstrated a high level of situational interest throughout the entire period of GALC educational approach implementation in chemistry teaching. This may be lead to an assumption that such an educational approach is to be recommended in the future chemistry teaching.
An interpretative analysis of the qualitative data, which was performed on a small sample of the experimental group, has revealed four different students' conceptual pathways of acids and bases and three different ways of conceptual pathways of salts. They range from the radical advancement of electrolytes knowledge which was demonstrated after four months of the electrolytes teaching, up to the unexplained progress of this knowledge, with a greater decline after four months of learning this particular content.
We can draw the tentative conclusion that GALC learning modules on electrolytes have been appropriately designed to be implemented in Chemistry lessons of Year 8 primary schools in Slovenia. The participating students have demonstrated an appropriate quality and sustainability of electrolyte concepts understanding. The situational interest in Chemistry learning remained relatively high during the teaching with the GALC educational approach. The implementation of GALC learning modules did not negatively affect the students’ attitudes towards Chemistry and cooperative learning during the Chemistry lessons. It is also important to note that the GALC educational approach also enables less able learners to acquire electrolyte chemistry knowledge to a specific degree. Therefore, the implementation of GALC educational approach may be extended to various topics within elementary Chemistry curriculum or even to the natural sciences in general.