Investigative practical work


Understanding experimental planning for advanced level chemistry
Kim Seng Chan and Jeanne Tan
World Scientific
2015 | 308pp | £21 (PB)
ISBN 9789814667906

Written for students of International Baccalaureate (IB) and A-level chemistry, with some potential application for Level 3 applied science courses, Understanding experimental planning for advanced level chemistry offers some 68 practical experiments for use in the classroom.

The investigative approach the book adopts is very different to the traditional routine where a learner carries out an experiment by following a recipe. Instead, students are given a scaffold on which to both challenge and build their understanding. Key principles are explained as the learner encounters them in their investigation and the author takes time to offer a succinct explanation of key concepts, such as Hess’s Law.

The student is led through the investigation using questioning prompts, such as ‘what is the purpose of the plan?’ and ‘can we do a pre-calculation to show how much NaOH is needed for the titration?’. Each chapter also includes a section on safety precautions.

A broad range of experiments are covered, many beyond the scope of the UK curriculum. They occasionally use terms that might be unfamiliar, such as ‘gravimetric analysis’. A number of standard experiments are included, for example determining the formula of [Ni(NH3)n]2+ and the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide by a gas collection method. Some, such as finding the value of n in CuSO4·n H2O, adopt a different approach by using redox titration and not simply mass loss.

Some chapters include experiments of direct relevance for an applied science context, such as identifying anions and cations. A number of the experiments would be directly applicable to IB investigations.

If you are an A-Level chemistry teacher like me, you may be left longing for the time and opportunity to indulge such an investigative approach, rather than ticking off the items covered in the syllabus. That said, I am glad to have the book on my shelf and certainly plan to introduce some of its teaching methodology.

There is no doubt that the learner will benefit enormously from adopting 'The Learner's Approach'. As they are taken through an investigation, answering questions along the way, they emerge with a significantly improved grasp of the underlying science and methodology in research.