Response from National University of Ireland to Leaving Cert Chemistry Draft Syllabus
Copies of the draft syllabus were circulated by Dr Declan Kennedy to the Chemistry Departments of University College Dublin, NUI Maynooth, NUI Galway and University College Cork. The following report is a summary of the comments received.
1. In general the new syllabus was welcomed as a document that maintained the
high standard of chemistry in the present syllabus. The standard of the present syllabus has international standing and students entering third level institutions with Leaving Certificate Chemistry have a standard of chemistry comparable to those entering with the International Baccalaureate in Chemistry. The fact that the fundamentals of chemistry are maintained within the syllabus whilst at the same time the syllabus is updated to take account of modern developments in chemistry is welcomed.
2. The syllabus is clearly presented in terms of Learning Outcomes and we welcome
this clarity. However, we would also recommend that Guidelines indicating the depth of treatment associated with these Learning Outcomes are presented at the same time as the final draft of the syllabus so that the mistakes that occurred with the publication of the Junior Certificate Science syllabus are not repeated.
3. The efforts by the NCCA Chemistry Committee to contextualise the development
of chemistry by making reference to important milestones in the development of the subject and highlighting the scientific method by reference to the contributions of individual scientists is to be welcomed. Many students view chemistry as simply a list of unrelated facts to be learned off and any effort to highlight the social and technological aspects of chemistry is to be welcomed.
4. Overall, it is felt that the syllabus may be over ambitious in terms of the amount
of material to be covered. It is recommended that an audit be carried out so that approximate teaching time devoted to each section of the syllabus is incorporated within the syllabus - as is the case with the present Leaving Certificate Chemistry syllabus. Some suggestions for deletions will be listed at a later stage. We would however express concern here as significant loss of content would undermine the current international standing of the Leaving Certificate chemistry syllabus.
5. We welcome the proposal to include assessment of practical work. Some
comments received pointed out the poor practical skills of many of the students who enter first year university courses. Many of these students have high grade in chemistry but may have carried out little or no laboratory practical work – particularly if they have attended “grind schools” that concentrated solely on the
written examination paper. Chemistry is a practical subject and the present system whereby students are assessed solely on a written terminal examination paper is unsatisfactory. A number of questions were raised regarding how the practical work will be assessed, e.g. “I suppose the issue regarding practical work is how feasible it will be in all the schools? Will better equipped schools have an advantage? I suppose this was always a problem but will it be enhanced by the new assessment? From an academic perspective of course the more experience a student gets in the laboratory, the better. It seems that perhaps some ideas around how to provide students access to lab facilities would be desirable although if this is not a regular experience it is difficult for the student to develop the skills.”
6. The syllabus lacks clarity in terms of highlighting the mandatory student practical
work designed to impart fundamental laboratory skills and transferable skills (observing, measuring, analysing, interpreting, etc.) to students. We recommend that this list be included as an Appendix to the draft syllabus. We also welcome the inclusion of more open-ended investigative practical work activities and would also recommend that these be highlighted in an Appendix to the syllabus as well as in the body of the syllabus itself.
7. We welcome the inclusion of practical work involving modern sensor technology
and we hope that funding will be made available to schools to purchase this datalogging equipment.
8. In assessing this syllabus using the examination paper, we hope that there will be
more emphasis on problem solving rather than simple recall of information. We note the relatively minor attention given to stoichiometric calculations on the present Leaving Certificate chemistry examination despite the very significant amount of stoichiometry on the syllabus.
9. It was felt that it was important to stress the applications of chemistry to everyday
life. One comment stated that “One comment stated: “It’s hardly a surprise that we would like ways to be found to encourage more students to take Chemistry. If the new syllabus could get across more on the applications of chemistry in everyday life it might attract more students to the subject”.
10. Some comments received felt that there should be more emphasis on the impact
of chemistry, e.g. “Is there room showing more about the impact of chemistry on life and medicine? Or the role of chemistry in solving energy problems or green chemistry? How is it that chemistry has been at the basis of major developments in biology (e.g. organic chemistry behind the DNA structure, synthesis of peptides, nucleic acids as tools for biology and medicine). I can see the effort there in the syllabus to highlight some things.”
11. In the organic chemistry section it was felt that there should be more emphasis on
three dimensional chemistry, e.g. “In organic chemistry I would like to see more questions asking the student to draw structures and trying to draw things like
tetrahedral molecules (e.g. methane) and getting their heads around the fact that Chemistry is a 3D subject.”
1. We suggest that the concept of “matter” be included in the aim of the syllabus.
2. Section 2.1. The introduction of the new topic of interpretation of mass
spectrometry data is welcomed as this is a commonly used analytical tool in modern chemistry.
3. Section 2.1. It is recommended that the term “periodicity” be included to ensure
that students understand the fundamental principle behind the Periodic Table.
4. Section 2.2. It is recommended that the distinction between transition elements
and d block elements be specified and that reference be restricted to the first row of the d block elements. In addition, it is recommended that students should be able to give a simple explanation of why many transition elements form coloured compounds and can behave as catalysts. In the Teachers’ Guidelines it is recommended that teachers should be given some assistance in choosing relevant examples of catalytic behaviour, e.g. Haber Process, Contact Process, Hydrogenation involving nickel, etc.
5. Section 2.4. It should be sufficient for students to know just the structure of
buckminsterfullerene rather than buckyballs in general. Reference to the origin of the name should also be included as this is of interest from a Science, Technology and Society application.
6. Section 2.5. It is recommended that the topic of electrolysis (section 2.5) be
deleted. Without detailed knowledge of the Electrochemical Series, factors affecting the discharge of ions during electrolysis, standard electrode potentials, etc. the coverage of this area of the syllabus is very superficial.
7. Section 3.3. An interesting and relevant laboratory activity would be to ask
students to design a simple calorimeter to measure the enthalpy change for the combustion of a sample of a fuel, e.g. ethanol.
8. Section 3.5. Reference to the relationship between the magnitude of the
Equilibrium Constant and the position of equilibrium would be helpful to students.
9. Section 4.1. It would be helpful to draw students attention to functional group
10. Section 4.1. It is suggested that students should be aware of the physical and
chemical evidence that shows that benzene does not contain three separate double bonds.
11. Section 4.5 It is suggested that reference be made to some simple pharmaceutical
products and possible a case study be carried out by students on one of these products, e.g. aspirin. Reference to the use of pharmaceutical compounds in simple anaesthetics would be of interest to students. Also students should be able to identify functional groups within more complex molecules.
12. Section 4.6. The introduction of some basic interpretation of IR spectra is
welcomed due to the important role played by infrared spectroscopy in identifying compounds.
13. Section 5.1. An experiment to distinguish between strong and weak acids would
be helpful to avoid commonly held misconceptions in this area among students. It is recommended that students carry out experiments to distinguish between strong and weak acids and bases by (a) pH measurements and (b) conductivity measurements.
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