INTRODUCTION The material presented here supplements Starter Investigations for Advanced Higher Chemistry1 developed by three members of the Royal Society of Chemistry Scottish Education Com by xad14601

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The material presented here supplements Starter Investigations for
Advanced Higher Chemistry1, developed by three members of the Royal
Society of Chemistry Scottish Education Committee (Kenneth
Robertson, Craig Gray and Colin Wood), and jointly funded by the
Higher Still Development Unit and the Royal Society of Chemistry. The
background and theoretical concepts underpinning these materials are
explored here in more depth so that teachers and lecturers have the
opportunity to see the thinking behind them.

There are two distinct parts to this document. The first deals with the
background to the creation of Starter Investigations and includes some
of the ideas that guided the authors’ thinking. Part Two deals with how
Starter Investigations might be used within Advanced Higher and details
the methodology the authors had in mind for their usage. The two parts
have been written as independent units so that teachers and lecturers
can dip in as they wish.

      See page 16 for all notes.


  PART 1

Background to Starter Investigations

In introducing Advanced Higher (AH) Chemistry, the Scottish
Qualifications Authority were following in the footsteps of the Certificate
of Sixth Year Studies (CSYS) Chemistry course introduced in the 1960s.
Among other aims, CSYS was designed to encourage ‘the capacity for
the independent pursuit of a subject’ and to increase students’
‘educational maturity’2. To meet those requirements, the research
project was introduced, designed (by its shape, logistics and assessment)
to help students mature and become more independent. The project
became an integral part of what was to become one of the most popular
subjects studied by students at CSYS level, with evidence that it did
indeed increase the educational maturity and success of students when
they went on to Higher Education. Many other qualifications now
include a project/investigation component as part of their programmes
of study, and there have been calls for such work to become more
common both in secondary and the first few years of Higher and Further
Education 3 .

Advanced Higher Chemistry aims to continue the tradition of the former
course with a rationale encompassing the development of ‘the skills of
independent study and thought that are essential in a wide range of
occupations’, and includes a research project to ‘develop [students’]
investigative skills’4. However, this has to be achieved in the shorter time
allocation given to the project, or ‘investigation’ as it is now termed in

Problem Solving and Investigation

Investigative work can be a challenging yet ultimately satisfying
experience for students, allowing them to follow some of their own
interests and develop a variety of valuable skills such as problem solving,
scholarship and research.

Projects and investigations should be clearly distinguished from the
recipe-following experiments that students frequently undertake in their
study of Chemistry. One way of describing the range of laboratory work5
is given in Table 1 below.


Table 1

 Description                  Characteristic Features

 Demonstration                Carried out by teacher, usually to
                              demonstrate and reinforce theoretical

 Standard Practical           Carried out by student. Tightly structured
                              to produce known and well documented
                              answers. Students learn to follow precise
                              instructions and can learn specific
                              techniques of observation and

 Structured Enquiry           Carried out by student, having chosen
                              his/her own procedures and/or provided
                              his/her own interpretations. Requires
                              some innovation by the student.

 Open-ended Enquiry           Students identify a problem, formulate it
                              clearly, and design experimental
                              methodology. Requires skills of a
                              research scientist.

 Project/Investigation        Based on a series of experiments. Can be
                              selected by student or offered by teacher
                              or derived from some other source.
                              Allows students to explore a topic in
                              some depth, developing initiative and

While all of these have their place in learning Chemistry, the kind of
laboratory experience higher up in the table usually requires students to
follow rigid, prescriptive protocols to achieve well documented answers.
In contrast, those lower down in the table offer greater challenges as the
more investigative type of work can require creative and imaginative
approaches to solving problems that arise. Students can get personally
involved and have to decide what they need to do in order to achieve

One way of categorising problem solving divides it into eight types, as
set out in Table 26.


Table 2

 Type   Data          Methods      Outcomes/   Skills Bonus

 1      Given         Familiar     Given       Recall of algorithms

 2      Given         Unfamiliar   Given       Looking for parallels to
                                               known methods

 3      Incomplete    Familiar     Given       Analysis of problem to
                                               decide what further data
                                               are required; data seeking

 4      Incomplete    Unfamiliar   Given       Weighing up possible
                                               methods and then deciding
                                               on data required

 5      Given         Familiar     Open        Decision about appropriate
                                               goals; exploration of
                                               knowledge networks

 6      Given         Unfamiliar   Open        Decision about goals and
                                               choice of appropriate
                                               methods; exploration of
                                               knowledge and technique

 7      Incomplete    Familiar     Open        Once goals have been
                                               specified by the student,
                                               data are seen as incomplete

 8      Incomplete    Unfamiliar   Open        Suggestions of goals and
                                               methods to get there;
                                               consequent need for
                                               additional data; all of the
                                               above skills

Types 1 and 2 are the commonest forms of problem solving in a
chemical education setting, for example: ‘How many cm3 of 0.12 mol l–1
HCl(aq) will be required to neutralise 10 cm3 of 0.35 mol l –1 NaOH(aq)?’
These involve the use of algorithms, formulae and/or well trodden
routes; there is a unique answer. Type 2 differs from Type 1 in that the


method required might be unfamiliar, but once solved a Type 2 problem
becomes Type 1.

The remaining six types are much more like those encountered in
investigative work. Goals are seldom absolutely clear at the beginning
and the methods may be unfamiliar. Data will be incomplete because the
student will have to generate them (at least in part) from experimental

The Core Skill of Problem Solving in Higher Still is defined as involving7:

• Critical Thinking – the ability to analyse and reason in order to make
  decisions and to create or suggest ideas, courses of action and

• Planning and Organising – the ability to make clear plans for a task
  which take account of available resources, and the ability to manage
  the task to completion;

• Reviewing and Evaluating – the ability to reflect on and review the
  process of tackling issues and problems, to evaluate the outcomes
  and to identify where alternative strategies might have been used.

Tasks like those described in the lower sections of Tables 1 and 2 require
more from students than the tasks in the upper sections in terms of
these three components of the Core Skill of Problem Solving. Indeed,
the investigation component of AH Chemistry is seen as contributing
much to the development and assessment of Problem Solving skills.

However, it has to be added that in any investigation, the skills of
Problem Solving and research can be employed to a high degree or can
be almost entirely absent depending upon the nature of the
investigation and the approach adopted.

It is possible to force an investigation into the form of Types 1 and 2
(from Table 2) or a Standard Practical (from Table 1). Presenting ideas in
recipe formats, or even giving students the reports written by their
predecessors, can convert an investigation into an exercise and lose
much of the associated potential benefits.

A simple example can illustrate the importance of presentation:
‘We’re going to find out that an acid and a metal carbonate react to
produce carbon dioxide. To do this, you will…’ is likely to be the
beginning of a quite prescriptive piece of work. By turning this round to


pose questions to the students the nature of the experience can change:
‘What do you think happens when an acid and metal carbonate react?
Which substances might be produced? How could you test for them?’

Over the years, as the number of students attracted into the subject
grew, so the ingenuity of teachers was strained in their hunt for new
projects. Difficulty in generating new ideas offering a piece of work at a
level appropriate to the student’s experience and the opportunity for
appropriate practical work led to recycling of ideas for projects.
However, as the essential point is that the work must be original to the
student, old ideas can work perfectly well as long as they are presented
to the student in an appropriate way.


Investigative work can be very motivating for students in allowing them
to take a deeper look at an area that intrigues them or to relate their
formal studies to ‘real life’ applications.

Over the years of CSYS, students reported feeling ‘ownership’ of their
project. They found this highly motivating; they were able to do their
own thing. This does not mean that AH students will not want or need
guidance. To leave them to their own devices is neither kind nor wise –
even advanced post-graduates are regularly supervised! Often students
have for so long been subjected to tightly prescribed work that they
want to break out, but an investigation may be their first free experience
of learning Chemistry and they need to be assured of assistance. Just as
too much support can reduce the impact of an investigation, too little
can make the experience frustrating and demotivating.

Another motivating factor is creativity. This is high sounding, but simply
involves providing the means for students to do something in which
part of their own thinking and contribution is involved, and from which
they can derive pleasure. This could take the form of, for example,
modifying a piece of apparatus, overcoming a snag or dealing with a

Choice of Topic

Something has already been said about the danger of reducing
investigative work to recipe-following. Students’ suggestions for
research topics can be unrealistic in terms of their own skills or available
equipment or safety constraints. However, it is our experience that
most students undertaking an investigation have a vague idea of


interest, often related to their future intentions when they leave school.
Some are attracted to topics with a medical, dental or engineering slant;
others have preferences within Chemistry, such as organic or
environmental ones; only a few have no idea at all.

Some of their apparently unrealistic ideas can be modified and made
workable by sending a student to consult elsewhere. Our experience
has shown that vague or over-optimistic ideas can often form the basis of
a discussion with another chemist to produce a good investigation of
which the student can claim ownership.

The Idea of Starter Projects

It was in order to combat the recipe-following approach that the
concept of the ‘Starter Project’ for CSYS Chemistry was devised and
developed in the early 1990s at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for
Science Education. A Starter Project is an idea or technique that should
lead to a variety of different projects depending on factors such as the
field of study to which it is applied or the variables a student chooses to
investigate. Ideally a Starter Project given to n students will produce n
different projects.

Extensive development work was carried out both to test the concept
itself and to ensure the feasibility of individual Starter Projects,
culminating in the publication of some seventeen Starter Projects in two
booklets in 19948 and 19959. These two publications went on to sell
well, both within the Scottish market for which they had originally been
written and elsewhere, as teachers working within different education
systems realised their potential.

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Scottish Education Committee, which
was involved in supporting the original Starter Projects booklets, wanted
to revisit the concept in the light of the change from CSYS to AH. The
Committee was anxious to retain as much as possible of the quality of
the old project in the investigation, despite the reduction in time
allocation, and proposed to the Higher Still Development Unit that the
Starter Project concept be re-examined and adapted to the
requirements of AH. The name change from project to investigation was
intended to stress that there is a real difference between the two,
particularly in terms of recommended time, but it is expected that the
types of practical work, thinking and methods of working will be broadly


In the discussion of how to adapt the Starter Projects for AH, four points
emerged that were to be influential in guiding their development:

• the reduction in time would affect the range of work undertaken and
  would require planning to be carefully focused;
• during an investigation students should be encouraged to ask
• interaction between student and teacher is vital in planning;
• there are different levels of ability/motivation within those opting to
  study AH Chemistry.

With all of this in mind, the work to evolve Starter Projects into Starter
Investigations (as they were re-named) began.

                                    USING STARTER INVESTIGATIONS

  PART 2

Using Starter Investigations

In producing Starter Investigations, the authors had a clear idea of how
the materials might be used, and this influenced their format
considerably. Even so, their format offers a variety of ways in which they
can be used. In Part 2, the format is described and then one particular
teaching method is explored.

What does a Starter Investigation look like?

Each Starter Investigation comprises a number of sections, usually (but
not always) Investigation Brief, Some Starter Questions, Possible
Investigations, Some Sources of Information, and Help and Hints.

The Investigation Brief contains a short discussion of some aspect of
Chemistry. Sometimes the material in the Investigation Brief will be
about a topic students may have previously met in their studies, for
example electroplating; sometimes the topic will be less familiar, for
example wine analysis. However, the story told in the Investigation
Brief is intentionally incomplete; it should leave the student with
questions in his/her mind and will require further reading to be fully
understood. The Investigation Brief acts as a springboard for the

This section leads naturally into Some Starter Questions, which poses
some of the questions that can be asked of the Investigation Brief. By
answering these questions, the student will gain a fuller understanding
of the topic or sometimes an idea for an actual investigation. However,
to help retain the open-ended nature of the task, not all of the questions
that could be asked of the Investigation Brief are given.

Possible Investigations gives some suggested areas for research arising
from the topic under discussion. Some suggestions are more obvious
than others, but again the list is not intended to be exhaustive.

Some Sources of Information contains specific references or more
background information.

Help and Hints outlines some of the techniques that could apply to the
suggested Possible Investigations.


In all these sections, no attempt has been made to be comprehensive
and cover all the possibilities that could arise; some help/ideas are given
but scope remains for the individual student’s own unique input. None
of the Starter Investigations provides a ready-made investigation or a
recipe for an investigation; the student must supply some degree of
thought. The aim is to offer suggestions and ideas along with further
information that the student can draw on if and/or when required.

The amount of information a teacher gives to a student can be varied
depending on that student’s needs and/or abilities. To give all the
sections of a Starter Investigation to a student at the beginning would be
counterproductive and would be unlikely to be a successful strategy.

Choosing a Starter Investigation

Before using Starter Investigations, teachers will want to read through
the materials to decide how each might best be offered to a particular
student. Some of the Possible Investigations and techniques given in
Help and Hints might require apparatus and/or chemicals that are not
available, meaning that this aspect is not offered to the student.

Just as investigations offer students the chance to consider ideas that
they had never thought of before, they can equally offer the teacher the
chance to explore areas of Chemistry about which they know little.
Whilst some teachers welcome this, others may feel uncomfortable
supervising such investigations and may decide not to use Starter
Investigations covering such areas.

Having decided which Starter Investigations to use, each can be offered
to students in a variety of ways, for example:

• discussion with the student to identify broad areas of interest might
  narrow down the choice. An intention to study medicine might
  suggest investigations with potential medical/biological slants; an
  interest in the environment might lead to a Starter Investigation that
  can be taken in that direction;

• a student could be given a selection of Investigation Briefs to help
  select an area of interest;

• a student could be given some combination of the Investigation
  Briefs, Some Starter Questions or Possible Investigations for a
  particular Starter Investigation.

                                   USING STARTER INVESTIGATIONS

How to use Starter Investigations

Starter Investigations have been presented in such a way that they offer
teachers a wide range of options in how they are used, although one
clear model was in our minds and this is described in the discussion that

Whilst the materials are intended to spark off questions in students’
minds, we recognise that encouraging students to formulate questions
can be a difficult task! To help them generate questions we have
adopted an approach derived from Problem Based Learning (PBL)10.
This is a methodology now widely used in Higher Education that has its
roots in teaching Medicine. PBL aims to encourage students to ask
questions and search out answers using a problem or scenario as the
starting point. Each scenario is carefully written so that in identifying
questions appropriate for research, and then seeking out those answers,
students are assimilating both subject knowledge and a way of learning.
In so doing they are active in their learning processes rather than being
passive consumers of facts.

PBL methodology offers a series of processes or steps to follow which
we have adapted to suit Starter Investigations. The following Seven
Steps could be issued to help students structure their thinking before
starting on the Starter Investigations and so encourage them to devise
appropriate questions of the materials.

Step 1: Do I understand all the terms used in the Investigation Brief?
        (What do all the words mean?)

Step 2: What am I trying to discover?
        (What needs to be or can be investigated here? What are the key

Step 3: What relevant information do I already know or can I recall
        from my previous experience that will help me? (Brainstorming

Step 4: What information do I need to better understand the Brief or
        answer the questions I cannot answer yet?
        (What are the questions for which I want answers?)

Step 5: Where might I get the answers I need?
        (What resources are available to me?)


Step 6: Carry out private study to find answers to the questions.

Step 7: Having done some private study, do I now feel I have answered
        my questions?
        Can I make a start on the practical work necessary for my

Sometimes a student will run through parts of this cycle more than
once, for example, if in collecting information an unfamiliar term is
uncovered, then there is a need to find out its meaning. The role of the
teacher becomes focused on helping students formulate the kinds of
questions from the Seven Steps and pointing them in the directions
where they might find the answers rather than simply telling them the
answers. In this role the teacher is quite likely to answer a question from
a student with another question!

Questions generated at Step 2 often fall into three broad categories:

• potential research questions (e.g. ‘How do red wines differ from
  white wines?’);
• theory questions (e.g. ‘What is a tannin?’);
• practical questions (e.g. ‘How do you measure ethanol content?’).

Regular discussion between teacher and student is vital to help drive an
investigation forward and refine these questions – for example, by
asking the student questions like ‘What do you mean by “How do red
wines differ...”?’, or ‘What do you need to know before you can do that?’.
Encouraging students to think about these kinds of questions begins to
engage them in the process of investigation.

The more imaginative students may well be able to generate questions
for themselves after reading the Investigation Brief and so not require
Some Starter Questions. These students may not require the Possible
Investigations either as they can identify an investigation for themselves.
However, most are likely to require at least some extra structure to help
them formulate questions and decide on an actual investigation. By
giving students the Brief and the Seven Steps model, teachers can hold
the other sections ‘under the counter’ and bring them into play if and
when required, thereby giving support to those who need it when they
need it.

For whatever reason, there will always be students who do not have an
investigation ready to start by the end of the time allocated to planning.
In this case teachers can issue the Help and Hints section. Although

                                    USING STARTER INVESTIGATIONS

Help and Hints usually offers suggested methods of carrying out the
Possible Investigations, it generally does not give students fully
described step-by-step procedures for the overall investigation – even
with this level of support, a student must bring some of his or her own
thinking into play.

Another situation in which the Help and Hints section might be used is
where a student has attempted some technique that, although well
thought through, has proved unsuccessful and he/she is becoming
anxious for results. We all feel more comfortable when our work yields
‘positive’ results, regardless of the amount of work put into planning
and carrying out an ‘unsuccessful’ piece of work. Even so, some
students (and their teachers) will have to accept that it is not always
possible to achieve ‘positive’ results within the time allocated, and this
must not influence judgement about the ‘worth’ of the investigation.
Indeed, research that produces ‘positive’ results might not necessarily
be the best outcome for a particular piece of work.

Introducing Starter Investigations

Some of these Starter Investigations were tried by teachers all over
Scotland as part of in-service events in November 1999 and a summer
school in 2000, before being distributed to all schools in Scotland as
support material. At these events teachers had the opportunity to
experience the process of question generation using the Seven Steps
Model and try out some of the techniques in a laboratory session. They
also provided the authors with valuable feedback.

The teachers were very positive in their comments, praising the
approach taken. Some were inspired by the material to suggest writing
their own Starter Investigations using the above format. This is
something the authors would welcome and encourage – the Starter
Investigations were never intended to become an ‘approved’ source of
investigations for AH Chemistry students. We would like to thank
teachers for their enthusiasm and would welcome teachers who devise
new ideas sharing them with their peers. To this end members of the
Royal Society of Chemistry have set up a web site for Starter
Investigations at:



1.    Higher Still Support Materials 7134: Chemistry Starter
      Investigations (Advanced Higher), Higher Still Development Unit
      and Royal Society of Chemistry: Edinburgh (Summer 2000)

2.    Certificate of Sixth Year Studies 1991, Scottish Examination Board:
      Dalkeith (1990)

3.    Moyes, D, Schools of Thought, in Chemistry 2000, Chemistry in
      Britain Supplement. Chemistry in Britain/Education in Chemistry
      (December 1999)

4.    Arrangements for Chemistry (1st edition), Higher Still
      Development Unit (Scottish Consultative Council on the
      Curriculum): Edinburgh (May 1997)

5.    Brown, G and Partington, J, Project E3 Effective Engineering
      Education: Professional Development Materials for Engineering
      Tutors in Higher Education. The Engineering Professors’ Council
      with the UK Universities’ and Colleges’ Staff Development Agency

6.    Wood, C A, Creative Problem Solving in Chemistry, Royal Society of
      Chemistry: London (1993) (Introduction by A H Johnstone)

7.    Information for presenters: What is New in Higher Still?

8.    Johnstone, A H, in association with Akhtar, S; Gray, C and
      Pollock, C, Starter Projects for Sixth Year Studies, Centre for
      Science Education, University of Glasgow and Royal Society of
      Chemistry, Education Division (Scotland) (1994)

9.    Johnstone, A H, in association with McCue, C; Robertson, K and
      Seenan, G, More Starter Projects for Sixth Year Studies, Centre for
      Science Education, University of Glasgow, GlaxoWellcome plc and
      Royal Society of Chemistry, Education Division (Scotland) (1995)

10.   Boud, D (ed.), Problem Based Learning in Education for the
      Professions, Higher Education Research and Development Society
      of Australia: Sydney (1985)


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