Subject Spotlight: Unveil The Mystery Of Chemistry

Some people say the best way to learn Chemistry is just to memorise. Memorising is everything. But is it true? Chemistry is like the centre of science. It connects Biology and Physics, but it is still different from these two subjects. It’s abstract which requires lots of imagination and also fascination with so many cool experiments. What goes on in our DCSZ classrooms? How do our expert teachers plan and deliver lessons that help students reach their full academic potential? Last time we posted our Subject Spotlights for Business and English.

This time we interviewed Ms Ellena Lin, our Chemistry teacher, who gave us some insight into the Chemistry Studies at our college.

Hello, Ms. Lin. Firstly, could you please introduce yourself and your teaching background?

I came from a family where the majority of the members are teachers. So, I guess I had an educator gene in my DNA. After 10 years teaching on chemistry courses, I still enjoy the job I am doing. Science education was always my interest when I was in undergraduate school, and that is the reason why I got my master’s degree at East China Normal University, majoring in science education. I was a visiting student to Illinois Institute of Technology and joined some PhD courses during that time. The main courses I took there and my research essay for my master’s degree focused on the Nature of Science. Therefore, I feel so lucky to teach the IB curriculum here at DCSZ, the only pre-university course that highlights the importance of the view of Nature of Science.

Could you briefly introduce the courses you teach at DCSZ?

I teach students from Year 7 to Year 13. For Year 7 to Year 9, we focus on integrated sciences, and we develop students’ scientific literacy and interest in science. The courses here are a spiral curriculum in which students will see the same topics throughout their school journey with each encountering increasing in complexity and reinforcing previous learning.

For example, within each stage students will learn how to use different equipment, how to design a simple experiment, how to use data to come to a valid, scientific conclusion. In terms of the chemistry learning in Year 10 and Year 11, it’s our IGCSE courses. It lays the foundation of chemistry and builds student’s concepts and understanding of chemistry theory. Students will not only learn Chemistry knowledge, but also have hands-on experiments. For example, the course will start with atomic structure and relate to the attraction between to atoms and how they affect the physical properties and chemical properties of different substances.

For chemistry learning from Year 12 to Year 13, it’s our IBDP course, where the theories and ideas get more complex, particularly the essay that teaches them to think like a true scientist. During this stage, we will deepen student’s theoretical foundation. They need to have independent thinking and apply what they learn into scientific research. For example, students need to not only answer the questions correctly during exams, but also design an experiment to test a scientific hypothesis with independent thinking and problem-solving skills. Taking the IBDP Chemistry course here at DCSZ thoroughly prepares our students further for their future education.

Thanks for the introduction. Please tell us about a unit or lesson that you taught recently and what subject knowledge or skills did students learn in this unit?

Taking our Year 12 class as an example, the current topic is enthalpy change. Students learned part of this when they were in Year 11, so they already understand the broader concepts regarding energy change. What we help them to develop now is to be able to apply their knowledge to scientific research. Theories students learned from the book do not tell the full story, so they can get confused when the data from the experiment does not meet their expectations. After each experiment, I will ask them the reason why this result has a huge percentage error and how to improve the methodology so that we can, for example, reduce the heat lost during the experiment. During the process, they will truly develop problem-solving skills and independent thinking. Sometimes students cannot get the results that they want, I will encourage them to try again and again until they make it. It takes patience and efforts, so you need to truly love it and learn it from the bottom of your heart.

What strategies do you use to support students’ learning in this unit?

I take advantage of inquiry teaching method which is a student-centred approach where the teacher guides the students through questions posed, methods designed, and data interpreted by the students. Through inquiry, students actively find out information to support their investigations. Additionally, I encourage students to raise questions and use current knowledge to explain scientific questions. If they answer incorrectly, I will guide them to the right path instead of telling them the answer directly. What’s more, group discussion is also a good choice because it will enhance the understanding of students and maybe wholly new ideas can emerge. Who knows?!

What can students do to keep improving their Chemistry?

Chemistry is a challenging subject in IBDP curriculum. It also has been identified as one of the more difficult subjects at IGCSE level.  Helping them to find the links between each topic and encouraging them to ask questions are the strategies we use to improve their chemistry. 

In order to do that I will create certain unique groups when we do the experiments. Once the students find out they have different observations and results from the other groups, they start to ask questions.  And this is my favourite time when they jump out from the textbook and lead to a whole class discussion about it.