Learning styles have a considerable effect on the achievement of learners and to be an effective teacher of adults, it is essential to understand how adults learn. Lieb (1991) suggests that adults, in comparison to children and teens, have special needs and requirements as learners that include child care, lack of time and money, full or part time jobs and lack of confidence and self esteem. Knowles (1970) called this theory Androgogy and it distinguishes between the learning styles of children and adults. It has been suggested that teaching for adults should focus on how they learn rather than the content (Kearsely, 1996) so student -centred activities, card sorts, group discussions, model building are effective tools to enhance learning. However, personal experience has found that adults vary in the type of activities they enjoy: many don't like practical work whereas others prefer not to prepare posters and at the start of the course, the majority really dislike presenting information to the rest of the class. As a result it is important to include a variety of different activities in lesson plans.
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All learners need to know how they are progressing and what they have achieved, this is particularly so for adult learners. Feedback encourages and motivates learners and can be given formally or informally. Feedback in the form of comments/ suggestions for moving forward, have been more useful than a grading system, (Butler, 1988). I've also found that spot tests and quizzes can be successful motivators too, though this is usually more successful with the more motivated students.
There is a spectrum of student attitudes within classes of adult learners much as they are within classes of children and teens. There are those who just want to know what they need to do to achieve a pass and make minimal effort with homework, to those who are highly motivated, interested, complete work to a high standard and are well prepared for each lesson. The majority of the adult learners that I teach wish to study degrees in nursing at University, they are therefore very interested in the human physiology part of the course, but not keen at all on the more chemical parts such as the structure of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and the plasma membrane. As a result, students tend to close their minds to the chemistry assuming that it is not relevant to their course, despite being told that all biology is chemistry. Research has shown that chemistry is thought to be a subject that is difficult to learn for a variety of reasons, for example, the difficulty of visualising atomic structure, lack of confidence with mathematical skills, balancing equations. So it is necessary to ensure that activities are seen to be relevant to the courses the students will be moving on to in H.E. There should also be a foundation of knowledge.
Fortunately, the Access to H.E. Chemistry course spans KS3-KS5 and so the students will build on their knowledge so that when they encounter the most difficult concepts they will have the knowledge and confidence they require.
The topic chosen for teaching was Green Chemistry. The cohort of students involved were 7 adult learners on the Access to HE course who had been studying Biology but who were also interested in taking the additional module of Chemistry to prepare them for Biochemistry/Biomedical Degrees. These students will return in the next academic year to study the Access to HE Chemistry module which as stated, covers KS3,4 and 5 topics. Green chemistry was chosen since the subject is topical, relevant and familiar to many students from various forms of media such as newspapers, tv, radio. The topic lends itself to active learning such as: group discussion, independent research and presentations. It also provides the opportunity to extend chemical knowledge and skills, e.g. balancing equations and catalysis. Though it must be emphasised that of the seven students six had not studied chemistry since school and the seventh member of the group has extensive knowledge of a rare genetic condition form which her son suffers and therefore reads papers at research level. So a group with mixed abilities, but all interested and motivated to learn. Lessons were taught at the end of the Biology syllabus and the seven students volunteered to take part in these extra lessons.
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Students were given a questionnaire to determine existing subject knowledge at the beginning of the lessons and again at the end to ascertain if any learning had occurred. The students were also given a questionnaire that asked for the views of the students on the lessons (appendix I).
Access students study each subject once a week for three hours so lessons and lesson plans (Appendix II) are extensive. This has several advantages: there is time for students to process the information, for discussion, to help with problems encountered, reinforcement, assessment, and hopefully, substantial learning to take place. These lessons were taught when the students had completed their course and when their confidence and self-esteem had increased, when they had formed bonds with each other as classmates and had developed trust in the teacher, so this was an ideal time to introduce completely new information. However, it is always wise to be wary of introducing too many new things at one time as the new found self confidence can be fragile.
It is unfortunate that the cohort of students willing to volunteer for extra lessons was so small this makes analysis of the data not statistically viable. A variety of teaching strategies was used to enhance learning. These included: paired activities, model building, assessment questions, independent research and presentations. I have found that when tackling new information adult
learners are happier to work together initially, either in pairs or as a group. This increases confidence and in addition is very important in the exchange of knowledge.
Bearing in mind that this is hardly statistical analysis, there is no difference in the learning for Qs 1&3. The major learning appears to have occurred with Q9. This question is a memory question, information that you either remember or don't, it does not involve higher order thinking. Students seemed to find most difficulty with Qs 2&6 where more explanation was required. However, Qs 5&8 showed that at least half the students were able to give appropriate explanations in their answers. Q4 showed a decrease in learning and Q10 showed that half of the group gained some information.
Discussion and conclusions
When constructing a questionnaire several factors should be taken into consideration: there should be a variety of difficult and easy questions; there should be breadth of questions to cover the whole topic and half the questions should be in favourable and half unfavourable. In addition, there should be a large number of questions to increase their reliability and cancel out the effect of questions that have been misunderstood. There should be a random arrangement of the favourable and unfavourable questions and, they should be tested for reliability. This can be achieved with item analysis such as Cronbach's Alpha using SPSS, Coolican (2009). Also questions should be worded very carefully to ensure that the student can give a clear answer and that there is no ambiguity. Once questions have been formulated, they should be piloted with a large sample of students (if possible).
Clearly, there is considerable effort in designing a questionnaire of student opinions especially if that qualitative information is to then be represented quantitatively. Most classroom teachers, myself included, have very little experience of the rigors of this type of research and with a very small cohort of students it is very hard to apply statistical analysis and so I've opted for the most basic of information of percent of students respond to each of the categories. This is not rigorous analysis of the data in any way and it would have been helpful to have been given help with this kind of analysis.
However, having looked at the questions asked in the opinions questionnaire (Table 2) the questions have many faults, there are too many that are weighted to the favourable, there are too few questions and they have not been piloted and analysed for reliabilty. In addition I also think that on reflection, the questions in the subject knowledge questionnaire are also faulty. Much more
thought is required in the design of this type of questionnaire too. In fact, the results of each of these questionnaires tells me very little about learning and understanding the information or about how the students really feel about the lessons because I have no experience in interpreting the information acquired. How do you interpret the results? They can be converted into bar charts/pie charts but what does this actually reveal? The most effective information obtained was from the verbal feedback during and after the lessons, as their responses to my questions (For example: What do you think so far? How do you feel about writing chemical formulae? Does building the structure with molymods help?) has made me realise , on reflection, that the questions I asked during class as I was moving round the groups were much more informative and it would be best to write down the questions asked as soon as possible, so that they are not forgotten.
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One student commented on how she enjoyed working in groups because each of their different skills and knowledge helped the learning of each other. Another student commented that 'a metal door rolls down in my head when I see chemical formulae, but I like building the models because it helps me to see the structure in my mind'. I think the students were aware that the lessons did not go into great detail on the chemistry of the topic and one asked how the topic would change if studied in more depth. When I explained that bond enthalpies would be investigated, she commented that the prior knowledge would definitely be necessary. One volunteer said ' I wish I hadn't stayed because I really wasn't interested, my brain has closed down, but I didn't want to let you down'. This is another factor with the responses to questionnaires, although they are anonymous, the students may bias their answers in what they think is your favour.
Overall, from a teaching point of view, though I think the topic was relevant to everyday life, I still felt rushed and that I had not prepared the students well enough. There was too much pressure to finish the Biology syllabus and complete all the assignments. I was nervous in the sense that I am a novice chemistry teacher, but confident about the activities for the students. It felt like my first day of teaching. I was so aware of wanting to choose my words carefully to make sure that I was giving the correct information that my input was probably less relaxed than normal. This is can be a problem for non-specialists who do not have the depth of knowledge of a specialist and so are less relaxed about going 'off plan'. It may also be a problem when tackling topics that are uncomfortable for the teacher. Does the teacher's anxiety about the topic spread to the students and thus affect the learning setting? Will learning be reduced? Even an experienced teacher is nervous with difficult topics and if there is a good relationship with the students this can be an advantage as both students and
teacher can learn together and exchange ideas. I think this is very effective as a strategy especially with adults as they enjoy being able to contribute to the learning of the class. It is unfortunate that whilst being on the SASP course I have not also been teaching chemistry, that would have been much more helpful to me, as I really like to go straight back to the classroom from a course and try out what I've been learning that day.
On reflection, from this series of lessons I have learned that design and planning of questionnaires is a huge task for which I require the relevant training, but importantly that this should be part of the job, research-led teaching and learning, both in chemistry and chemistry education; that questionnaires, if developed properly can inform change in the learning; that student feedback is essential to give students ownership of the lesson and enhance teacher learning and that the design of worksheets is key to maintaining interest and achievement. Throughout the year I have been getting verbal feedback on the kinds of worksheets used in the Biology course. Many students like all the information they need to answer questions on the one page, others like to be able to relate information to previous work/ lesson and yet others prefer to research information independently and produce an essay. This feedback informed the design of the worksheets produced for the lesson. It is also important that students have prior knowledge which increases levels of success and gives them a foundation on which to build not only their knowledge but also confidence in their abilities. The worksheets were very well received and with hindsight one of the questions in the questionnaire should have been about them.
Design and planning of lessons is vital in teaching and learning. Teacher input need not necessarily be in the form of a powerpoint presentation, it is much more preferable to get the students involved, holding hands to represent bonds, bending and stretching to represent how IR radiation is absorbed by greenhouse gases. Directed questions are also important, using How? and Why? to encourage higher order thinking. When asked to carry out research such as this that it becomes clear just how much careful planning is required, not only in the design of course, lesson planning but also in the types of activity involved, and assessment. There is a huge amount to think about and this assignment has made me realise that I need to change some of the ways in which I plan and think but also I need to think about the assumptions made within the classroom. It is also necessary to try and find some way of finding out more formally about the learning styles of the students, this can then inform the design and planning stages.
To improve the lessons I would have an animation of the greenhouse effect on the interactive white board as the students are coming into the classroom. This engages the students immediately and is an exciting way to start a lesson. I have since found two very good sources:
I particularly like the second website as there is a series of questions that students can answer after the animation. These are interactive in that they are 'drag and drop' answers.
The lessons were relaxed and from my point of view seemed to have a friendly environment. The students seemed to enjoy the lessons but I'm not sure how much was learned. I think one of the problems was that as this was the end of term and voluntary the students knew that they did not have to remember anything for a test. I think that in that case it is much easier to mentally relax and even though you are motivated to learn there is not the need to think things through and problem solve. So learning would be at a superficial level not at the higher order level. After the lessons when asking for feedback, some students found the topic irrelevant and uninteresting; they were not really concerned about the greenhouse effect their interest was more for the physiology of the human body. In this respect it would have been more appropriate to find everyday examples of how the greenhouses effect affects individuals. I would also add an extra session of three hours so that the information could be reinforced and consolidated. The learning outcomes of the curriculum are nationally set and must not be changed. The way information is presented is absolutely key so that students are provided with the skills to be independent autonomous learners able to problem-solve, carry out independent research, present information clearly and concisely and be able to relate prior learning to future learning. Skills such as these increase self-esteem and confidence enabling the students to move on to their courses at University knowing that they will not panic when given difficult new information which they will get in degree level courses.
Overall, I have learned an enormous amount from this assignment, strengths and gaps, learning style, assessment criteria, how learning and teaching can be improved, how design and planning of curricula can be adapted and changed. It would be better if there were larger groups of students taking chemistry but the number of Access students moving on to Biomedical/Biochemical degrees is low. Large groups would give a better mix of learning styles, abilities and life experiences that would contribute to the class, it would also allow more rigorous research on learning to be carried out. In general, there are over one hundred
Access students each year which would provide an excellent number for statistical analysis. I am very aware of the extensive theories on the learning process that need to be studied in depth before carrying out any kind of research. In addition, knowledge and understanding of research methods, statistical analyses are essential. It is important to know what statistical test to use to interpret data obtained. Teaching adults is demanding, stressful and probably (for me) the most enjoyable! Adults are very different learners in comparison to children and teens. One of the most interesting aspects of teaching adults is their contribution to learning from their personal life experiences. Students' depth of knowledge on various physiological conditions is one of the reasons that encourage them to further study and when they realise that all of biology is chemistry, it comes as a shock. Some students enjoy the challenge whilst others would rather not know anything at all. The important feature is to relate at all times to the course they will ultimately be following; relevancy is crucial. As a teacher of adult learners, support and constant reinforcement are required. Many adults have their confidence shaken if they don't do well in a test or are confused, as several of the students say, 'big words that are difficult to spell and do I need to know how to spell them?' So a glossary is included in the worksheets, or the students are asked to make their own glossaries so that instead of me choosing the words that might be difficult they themselves decide which words they need to know more about.
So, as a reflective enthusiastic teacher, I am constantly thinking about how I can improve my teaching and from this assignment I realise that I need to re-learn the theories of learning, the various domains and how they each influence the other and the learning of the student. Teaching is hard work, surprising, demanding, something that you are constantly learning from.
One of the most enjoyable features of the SASP course was working with other teachers, getting ideas on how to teach chemistry, and lots of help on calculations, but most of all as a learner I needed the support of the other teachers to help me gain confidence in my abilities, practical skills and thinking skills. I would have liked to have even more subject knowledge and it is my intention to continue studying chemistry through the Open University. It is important as a teacher to also be a student, then it is impossible to forget how students feel when tackling a difficult subject for the first time and/or after a long gap.
(b) Critical reflection on the Impact of the Course on teaching
The learning process undertaken during this course has impacted on my teaching practice in several ways; that reflection is complex; that adult learners require different teaching strategies and relevancies; that embedding pedagogy into practical science is more difficult than it seems. This paper will discuss each of these in relation to the teaching of chemistry.
Many teacher training programmes encourage trainee teachers to be reflective practitioners (Yerrick et al 2005, Corrigan, 2009 and Childs 2009). However, the processes of reflection are complex and include several approaches that will evolve throughout training and throughout a career, (Del Carlo et al 2010). Several models of reflection exist (Gibbs, 1988; Johns, 2000; Rolfe et al, 2001 and Corrigan, 2009). Teachers tend to reflect as an ongoing superficial process in the day to day classroom by noticing what went well what didn't work, but tends not to be formally recorded. In fact, learning journals or reflective diaries tend to be the most difficult thing for students/student teachers/ teachers to be involved with. My experiences as an Open University associate lecturer have shown me that many of the students in the courses I teach are reluctant to write down how their learning has evolved during the course. Those who do use the learning journal however, have found the process of reflection very useful. Del Carlo et al (2010) also point out by reflecting and carrying out action research science education is improved. Reflection in teacher education began with Dewey in 1933 who studied how people think and learn using scientific methodology. In a way, teachers are involved in research on a day to day basis but generally do not perform any formal research, but there is a move to encourage teachers to become researchers (Aksela, 2010; Childs 2009). Having not only been a student on this course but also an experienced teacher of another subject has given me information from both sides. At the beginning of the course my confidence was very low though my motivation and interest was high. I wanted to do the course so that I could not only teach chemistry but also teach it well. There were several barriers to my learning, these included: lack of confidence; certainty that I would not be able to do calculations; being a more 'mature' student than probably any of the others within the group! During the period of learning, my confidence in practical skills, in subject knowledge
and in 'doing' calculations (slowly), increased. In fact in my reflective journal I have written 'we started mole calculations today, I'm hopeless, but the girls I sit with are patient and helpful'. Later on in the journal when experiencing calculations again I've written 'tried the questions myself today. Girls still there, but I worked slowly through them myself and got most of them right, getting there!'. Whilst there are numerous studies, (Geddis, 1993; Childs, 2009, Bailey, 2009; Kahveci, 2009) that suggest that teachers should be subject experts, Aksela,( 2010 p84) suggests that 'a teacher should be an expert in teaching, studying and learning'. She goes on to say that teachers must 'also know how to improve and reflect on their own work' and that teacher education should support chemistry teachers' career-long professional growth in both chemistry and chemistry education research. A result of this course it is my intention to do both. In addition to reflection, Bailey, (2008) makes the point that whilst students vary in their strengths and gaps, in their learning styles and abilities, lecturers and teachers are just as diverse in each of these areas. He goes on to suggest that by identifying the skills and qualities of teachers would be one way of improving the learning environment for the students. He suggests that though the design of chemistry degree programmes is much improved they must still take into account the diversity of teaching skills as well as subject knowledge of the tutors. The importance of the effect of the teacher cannot be over emphasised. In his paper, Bailey (2008 p72) found that the worst experiences of teaching were linked to the individual rather than the content or the teaching strategy. The most successful teachers in his department were two' talk and chalk,' and one young teacher who used the latest strategies and ICT. Successful teaching styles were therefore very different. The difference between the 'bad and the 'good' teachers was due to several factors, such as, clear speaking, listening to students, a good syllabus, teaching at the right pace and active student learning. Bailey (2008 p72) also suggests that 'the use of the right teaching method at the right time is can turn poor lecturer into a good one and a good one into an outstanding one. He also proposes a' teacher centred teaching' approach where the strengths and gaps of teachers can be identified and improved in order to enhance the learning environment and experience in higher education.
In their paper on recent developments in chemistry teacher education Eilks and de Jong (2009 p75) have stated that chemistry teacher education covers a range of areas e.g. the beliefs, attitudes and knowledge of teachers, 'the domains of teachers' cognitions, meaning the content specific domain, the domain of pedagogy, the domain of PCK ( Pedagogical Content Knowledge) and the interrelation between them' and Corrigan, (2009) whilst focusing on the knowledge domain of chemistry teachers in particular has found that self -reflection on their own problems and choosing how to act on them, is an effective means of reflection. In this particular programme, students were asked to set their own aims and intentions and reflect on their own learning. The students used learning logs and chemistry teaching portfolios to help. The conclusions from the study were positive, and ' participants while at the beginning reluctant to participate in reflective practice, engaged with it whole heartedly by the end of the course as the benefits it brings to dev eloping them as chemistry teachers is recognised and highly valued by them' (Corrigan, 2009 p130).
Reflection and experience is also a more complex relationship than is often thought (Jarvis, 1987; Light and Cox, 2001; Gibbs, 1988) and Kolb (1984) has suggested that experience is integral to the learning process. His Experiential Learning Theory is a holistic model of learning that includes learning, growth, and development. In reflection it is important to be aware of the learning styles of both the teacher and the students, (Race and Pickford, 2007). Collfield et al (2004) critically reviewed many models of learning styles and the main conclusion was that it is of fundamental importance which model is chosen as this will have a considerable effect on the student learning. This in itself is extremely difficult to decide as students will vary in the model that is most successful for them. In addition to which, within the teaching environment, we need to be aware of both our own feelings and those of the students (Goleman, 1998). But how can this influence good practice? Mortiboys (2005) has set out a series of steps that teachers can use to develop emotionally intelligent approaches to ensure successful learning, but should there also be a trend that encourages students themselves to be self-reflective? If students were encouraged to be reflective then learning would be enhanced.
Childs (2009) has stated that the current challenge in chemistry education is in how to turn the findings of research into teaching and learning into effective practice. He emphasises that the role of the chemistry teacher is essential since it is from schools that the chemists of the future develop. There are several barriers to implementing the findings of education research for example, ignorance of what is known about teaching and learning research in chemistry and, the unwillingness of some practitioners to change their teaching strategies.
There is considerable emphasis at the moment on 'effective practice', (Childs, 2009; Coffield et al 2004))
But what does research have to say about practice? Coffield et al (2004) suggest that students will be more motivated to learn if they know more about their strengths and gaps as learners and if teachers can respond to those variations within the individual then student achievement may increase. Additionally, that 'learning to learn' skills would provide a foundation for lifelong learning. It is essential in that reflective practice should be informed. For example, student feedback is effective in reflection, teaching and learning. Feedback from students to enhances teaching and learning as it can raise awareness of how the teaching is perceived and create a better understanding of how teaching affects learning. This is probably the most relevant information that the teacher receives and is relevant for critical reflection and development (Turner and Harkin, 2003). In addition, when students are able to contribute to lessons in this way it helps students ownership of their learning.
Whilst Childs (2009, p194) suggests that thorough knowledge, including the most difficult topics (moles!) is essential in order to teach, he further suggests that 'we only really understand something when we have to teach it'. However, it can also be an advantage to be a novice in the teaching of chemistry as it may be very helpful to the less confident students (especially adult learners whose main problem initially is lack of confidence) to approach the difficult topics together and encourage the students to suggest ways to move forward, thus allowing students to have input and ownership of the learning. I have found during the SASP programme that carrying calculations methodically and writing each step has helped me to understand the process and I feel that this is the way that I
would teach calculations with students. However, whether a novice or an expert, effective teaching involves strategies and methods that encourage, excite and motivate the learners. Bucat (2004) suggests that the role of the teacher is to re-work the knowledge into a form that helps students to understand and achieve and so teaching strategies are extremely important not only to make sure that all learning styles are catered for but also that learning is relevant, this is especially so with adult learners.
The study of adult learning or androgogy as it is sometimes called was pioneered by Knowles (1970), who identified six characteristics of adult learners each of which is important for the effective teacher to remember: adults are mainly self-directed and have considerable life experience; they are highly motivated and have an aim in mind; learning must be relevant to the course they wish to move onto and they are highly practical. It is also important for an effective teacher to remember to respect the life experiences of the students which can contribute very effectively to lessons. Adults have very different barriers to learning in comparison to children. These include: e.g. lack of time, childcare, jobs and transport. However, in my experience it is the lack of confidence in their own ability to remember/understand both Biology and Chemistry that I have found to be the greatest barrier. Students are frightened of the terminology, the concepts and the calculations. All of which prevent learning. The SASP course has made me aware of my own "Chemophobia" even though I'm highly motivated and also made me aware of the strategies I used to cope with it. Chemophobia (Eddy, 2000) does exist in the classroom and is thought to reduce the learning of chemistry due to the high levels of anxiety caused.
It is the role of the teacher to ensure that these barriers are decreased and to develop a trusting relationship that supports the student. In addition, to lack of confidence and low self-esteem, other barriers to learning that need to be overcome, including; a student's circumstances at a the time, called a situational barrier which may of course change over the duration of the course; filling in application forms in the first instance, the nerves of an interview, actually enrolling these are collectively called institutional barriers; and finally, the social, monetary and cultural barriers. Other circumstances such as distance from the college may also be a barrier to some students. So to get the adult learner onto a course is an achievement. As a reflective practitioner, it is essential to establish a welcoming and supportive atmosphere in the lesson. Once the setting of the lesson has been established a colourful lab with posters
and previous students' work) it is essential to relate to the students themselves. Vella (1994) has described 12 principles for effective learning in adults of which a good trusting relationship formed with students is one. Others include involvement of the students in determining learning outcomes (needs assessment); a safe learning environment between student and teacher; careful planning in the sequence of content and its reinforcement; active learning; respect; how the students feel about their learning and how they act upon those feelings,; the immediacy of the learning; distinct roles; small group work ; engagement and assessment. Adults also require extensive feedback, continual reinforcement and ownership of their progression. (Leib, 1999; Meriam, 2001). How will this vary when teaching chemistry to adults? The course that I teach spans from KS3 to KS5, therefore the subject content, practical skills and the chemistry education knowledge gained on this course has given me excellent preparation. I think more carefully and plan more effectively to ensure that the subject content and associated practical work is explained clearly, is relevant to the students and achieves the learning required. Having been a student on this course and a novice chemistry teacher, I am more aware of how to overcome barriers to learning. The cohort of students I will be teaching is small but highly motivated, hence one of the barriers to learning has been 'lifted' a little! They range from those who have had no science/chemistry since school to one student who reads and understands research papers on a particular genetic condition that affects her son. This range of students is an advantage as one of the teaching strategies I use is to encourage peer learning. Venkataraman, (2009), has suggested that students have difficulty with chemistry because they are unable to form 'mental models' and as a result, are unable to relate molecular structure with the things that they see around them. Hence they have difficulty in seeing the relevance of chemistry in their daily lives. Venkataraman, has developed a software package that enables students to visualise molecules and their systems. Model building is a strategy that I already use in Biology classes and is something that I will continue with when teaching Chemistry. Crippen and Brooks (2009) however, have used a model of human learning (Interactive Compensatory Model of Learning, ICML) to ascertain that motivation, practice and feedback are key elements in developing expertise and concluded that prior knowledge is the 'largest predictor ' of new
learning and that chemistry teachers should focus on 'motivating the students to develop a good and 'well integrated' knowledge of chemistry. Learning Chemistry involves developing expertise and deliberate practice plays a critical role in this process. Worked examples of calculations for example, are especially useful but even more so when students explain how each step in a calculation is achieved. One of the main characteristics of adult learners is relevancy and El-Faragy (2009) has proposed an applications -led method of teaching chemistry to nurses. She developed new teaching materials that used every day examples of chemistry such as medicines to illustrate the chemical concepts the students required. Each worksheet prepared built up the information required in an interesting and effective manner, introducing chemical formulae, symbols, bond formation, self assessment questions and interest boxes. The results of the study showed that the students much preferred these new materials.
The word 'learning' has been used in this paper frequently and learning styles several times. However, what is the difference between the learning styles of adults and children and why is it important? Liztinger and Osif (1992) have stated that each individual develops a consistent approach to learning that includes how knowledge is acquired (VARK), how the individual processes the information and lastly how the individuals emotions, motivations and decision making styles develop their learning style. Kolb (1984) suggested that learning styles can be cyclical, moving from involvement in a new experience to reflecting about that experience to suggest explanations on the experience and to use those theories to solve problems or make decisions. He divided learners into accommodators, divergers, assimilators or convergers. Though it is possible to evolve through these styles over time, it was suggested that learners usually rely on one style. It is important to know and understand these styles when developing new materials.
However, it is with practical work that adult learners shine. As a group of students with homes, families etc, adult learners are excited and motivated. They do not always understand why they are carrying out the investigation, despite explanations and demonstrations, but they are enthusiastic and very 'practical' in their skills. One of the main benefits of the SASP course has been acquiring new practical skills and an increase in confidence in 'having a go' at
difficult experiments. It is my aim that each practical/ demonstration will have Socratic questions embedded in the method sheet so that the students understand why a procedure is necessary or so that they understand the result of a particular stage in the method. New teaching strategies in chemistry are as relevant to adult learners as they are to children and teens. Osborne, (2009) suggests that these need to be relevant and motivating, (I would also add that they should be fun), and use modern technologies and contexts. Students in general have a considerable sense of achievement (Hughes, 2004) when they have carried out an investigation and in chemistry these practical skills are essential. Practical work is an integral part of science teaching as it may lead to better understanding, however, there is an argument to suggest that its value is limited and unproductive. Many students dislike practical work as they do not understand why they are carrying out the investigation and it may 'not work'.
How is practical work important in teaching and learning? Practical activities vary in what they ask students to achieve and Millar (2009) has provided a tool that helps to clarify the objectives of the practical, its main features and how effective it is. This is the Practical Activity Analysis Inventory (PAAI) that allows both student and teacher to analyse practical effectiveness. But even deciding what 'effective' means involves consideration of not only the developer's attitudes/beliefs in science but also their beliefs of learning. So it is quite difficult to design a learning objective that will help students to form a connection between the activity itself and how it relates to theory. In general, practical work helps students to: understand the world around them (e.g. the chemistry of cooking); to learn techniques and how to use equipment; to understand theories and concepts. Practical work has been defined as an interactive 'hands-on' learning experience that may give experience of the real world e.g. forensic type analysis, and it has been further suggested that practical work can be divided in to two main categories. Firstly, student -centred practical work including investigations and fieldwork to help in understanding of concepts and secondly, demonstrations, data analysis, designing/ planning and evaluating activities to enhance problem solving skills and higher order thinking. Several other activities can complement practical work, these include, visits, role-play, presentations, models and group discussions (Woodley, 2009) all of which give a holistic approach to science
learning. It is essential though that practical work is effective. It is important to be absolutely sure what the students should learn from the practical and Millar (2009) has suggested that the teacher should ask the question: What do I expect the students to learn by doing this practical task that they could not learn at all or not so well, if they were merely told what happens?. Roberts (2004) supports this question and suggests that practical work is just one of many strategies in science teaching. Practical work can be used to enhance learning in three main ways: to develop practical skills, to solve problems and to encourage higher order thinking in terms of observations, predictions, evaluations, (Orger, 2009). Roberts, (2004) also suggests that there are different types of practical that can be used to enhance learning and I would suggest that in order to 'cover ' all learning styles a range of these should be included in each scheme of work. Research into improving student learning in laboratories has been ongoing for some time (Johnstone, 1993; Pickering, 1987; Osborne, 2009) it was Johnstone (1993) who suggested that students should not go into a lab without mental preparation and importantly, that that preparation was just as important and required just as much thought as the course itself. So, if preparation is important for students who are part of the educational system already, how much more important is that preparation for adults returning to education? McKelvy (2000) has suggested the use of a web based package to demonstrate techniques and begin the training of students. In addition to which, students should be able to prepare for practical work by reading through and answering questions on the procedure before they come into the lab. One of the other benefits of the SASP course has helped me to decide that students should be given a booklet containing all the practical work they will carry out at the beginning of the year so that they can be prepared. The use of demonstrations/video clips will also help in learning techniques, but it is using the equipment and thinking about what is happening in the reactions that will really enhance the learning. In conclusion, SASP has had a huge impact on my teaching encouraging me to be more reflective and make a formal record of those reflections; to think more about the motivations and fragility of adult learners and how to make practical work more effective.