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Sensemaking in chemistry at upper secondary school

Publicerad:9 november

Ylva Hamnell-Pamment har undersökt hur gymnasieelevers språkanvändning och tidigare kunskaper påverkar deras lärande i kemiämnet, och hur lärare stöttar elever på olika nivåer .


Ylva Hamnell-Pamment


Roger Johansson Lunds universitet Susanne Pelger, Lunds universitet Professor Marie Skepö, Lunds universitet Sophie Manner, Lunds universitet Vesa Leppänen, Lunds universitet


Professor Niklas Gericke, Karlstads universitet

Disputerat vid

Lunds universitet



Abstract in English

n chemistry education, student learning difficulties involve connecting theory and phenomena to make sense of chemistry, as well as utilising and understanding the language of chemistry. In this thesis, I examine the relationships among student language use, previous achievement level, and sensemaking in chemistry, as well as how experienced teachers help students make sense of chemistry as part of dialogic interaction during practical work. The aim of the thesis is to gain insights into how sensemaking in chemistry can be achieved at upper secondary school.
For this thesis, data in the form of student-produced concept maps, student surveys, grade data, video recordings of practical work and teacher interviews were collected from students and teachers conducting practical work in a wide range of school contexts and two school systems (Swedish and International Baccalaureate). Student and teacher–student sensemaking were examined qualitatively using content analysis of concept maps and conversation analysis of teacher–student dialogues. In order to examine the relationship between language use, sensemaking and dialogic interaction in chemistry, sensemaking in chemistry was framed from a Vygotskian perspective.
I found a relationship between previous assessed achievement level in chemistry and scientific language use, as well as student language use and sensemaking defined as connecting scientific theory and experience. However, no connection was found between previously assessed achievement level and sensemaking according to the cultural practice of chemistry, which is defined as the structuring of and connection between chemistry knowledge domains in student-produced concept maps. When examined further, the less structured concept maps were noted to contain signs of surface approaches to learning, indicating a possible connection between approaches to learning and chemistry sensemaking as a cultural practice. Finally, it was revealed that all of the experienced teachers involved in the study managed a balancing act in the classroom between (a) cueing sensemaking through exposing students’ knowledge gaps, connecting theory and experience, and introducing alternative concepts for thinking; and (b) presenting the students as competent contributors in the interaction. Through this thesis, I propose that students struggle to learn chemistry because they struggle to use psychological tools (such as scientific words and symbols) on their own to form concepts and mediate concept development in chemistry. I also propose, based on the data, that sensemaking in chemistry can be connected to both language use and approaches to learning, and that sensemaking according to the cultural practice of chemistry is not always assessed as part of grading in Sweden. Finally, I offer some suggestions for how chemistry teachers can work toward promoting sensemaking and concept development in their classrooms.
The work of this thesis provides a novel framework from which to view language use and chemistry sensemaking as cornerstones of chemistry learning. The framework can be used by researchers who wish to study the role of language in chemistry learning. The results of the thesis can also be used by teachers as a basis for their planning to promote optimal sensemaking classroom environments.

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