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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2020 / Winter 2021)

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Book review: Making science learning relevant through contextualization

By Shalin Hai-Jew, Kansas State University 


Contextualizing Teaching to Improve Learning:  The Case of Science and Geography 
Laurinda Leite, Luís Dourado, Ana S. Afonso, and Sofia Morgado 
Nova Science Publishers 
2017   307 pp. 

Laurinda Leite, Luís Dourado, Ana S. Afonso, and Sofia Morgado’s Contextualizing Teaching to Improve Learning:  The Case of Science and Geography (2017) makes the case for people integrating science knowledge, skills, and abilities into their daily lives as citizens and individuals.  

Taking Informed Actions to Shape the World (A Forward-Thinking Foreword)

In the Foreword, Derek Hodson points to large-scale hard problems being faced by humanity:  “deforestation and increasing desertification, acid rain, pollution of waterways, ozone depletion, climate change, soil loss, loss of biodiversity, exhaustion of many natural resources, explosive population growth” and societal disparities “in terms of income, access to proper housing, food and water security, educational opportunity, health care, freedom, justice and safety” (2017, p. vii).  Together, these issues are referred to as Socio-Scientific Issues (SSI), and the idea is that area issues in one cannot be solved without the other.  To help address these and other issues, science education can fulfill five “key purposes”:  economic (workers for smart economies), utilitarian (education of the general public), personal development (ensuring citizen benefits from science), cultural (“ensuring that all members of society develop a robust understanding of the history, development, achievements and contemporary scope of science and scientific practice”), and democratic or citizenship purposes for informed political participation (Hodson, 2017, pp. vii – viii).  Currently, educational institutions are falling far short.  A school science curriculum needs to provide a base of “scientific knowledge, scientific practice and the language, norms of behavior and values that guide scientists in their work” and encourages “intellectual independence rather than conformity and compliance” and ultimately enables people to problem-solve in an unpredictable world (p. ix).   Hodson proposes a more radical approach than typical in-the-classroom learning and suggests that students can arrive at their own insights, which should inform their socio-political actions.  

About Contextualized Learner- and Learner Geography-Centered Teaching (in the collection Intro)

Laurinda Leite, in “Why Should Contextualized Teaching be a Matter for Educational Concern?” points to the challenges of learner retention in the science and technology fields.  She points to the well documented STEM pipeline challenge, with ever declining rates of student engagement in science with each year of accredited and formal study.  One effort to retain learners is to make the learning meaningful by placing the learning in realistic situations, ensuring the authenticity of practice, and applying to learning to open-ended real-world challenges.  “Contextualized teaching” is interpreted and practiced in various ways, but essentially, it involves student centeredness, including their physical geography (Leite, 2017, p. xxiii).   This book is broken out into three sections, the first showcasing the importance of physical geography for prosocial education, the second focused on the need to understand the student point of view for teaching and learning, and the third with examples of contextualized curriculums and projects, including interdisciplinary ones (Leite, 2017, p. xxiv).   


Figure 1.  “Global Map” (by Megan Rexazin on Pixabay)

Part 1:  The Relevance of Science and Geography Knowledge for Citizenship

Engaged Smart Citizenry and Government in Singapore

Norman Lim, Aik-Ling Tan, Shirley Lim, and Paul Teng’s “The Relevance of Biological Knowledge for Citizenship:  A Singapore Perspective” (Ch. 1) opens this collection powerfully with a basic profile of an enlightened government.  If a good citizen is scientifically literate and responsible for self and others’ well-being, then a government has an interest in promoting both dimensions through powerful educational systems, proper incentives, and engagement with citizens.  The co-authors provide a light summary of the history of science and the scientific method and then the application of systems thinking to four large-scale challenges:  food security, nutrition, biodiversity decline, and climate change.  Ideally, humanity would achieve ways to address “food security, nutrition, biodiversity decline, and climate change” (Lim, Tan, Lim, & Teng, 2017, p. 3).  This work offers a generalist level of knowledge about the respective prior challenges albeit at the level of citizen consumption and understanding (vs. that of professional scientists).  Constructive “citizenship” involves having “a community of people coming together to create and reproduce political ideals and socio-cultural identities” (Haas, 2001, as cited in Lim, Tan, Lim, & Teng, 2017, p. 4), but achieving that involves costs to selfish individuals.  Contemporary lavish lifestyles have effects on “climate change, mounting electronic wastes, obesity, emerging new diseases,…food security” whereas “responsible citizenship” will requiring less selfish consumption (Lim, Tan, Lim, & Teng, 2017, p. 4).  At the time of publication, this island city-state had 5.5 million citizens, with whom the government has a constructive engagement for shared policymaking, public debates, and a sense of valuing every person’s opinion for citizen buy-in to government policies and practices (Lim, Tan, Lim, & Teng, 2017, pp. 18-19).    

Chemical Matter in the World…and Public Education

Figure 2.  Hidden Loops 

Ilka Parchmann, Ron Blonder, and Karolina Broman’s “Context-Based Chemistry Learning:  The Relevance of Chemistry for Citizenship and Responsible Research and Innovation” (Ch. 2)  begins with a sense of pride in the topic:  “Chemistry is related to almost every material, question, and topic. Chemical reactions take place in every living organism, in the environment, and in the industrial production of all the different products we use” (p. 25). And yet, for all the centrality of chemistry, common people do not recognize its importance.  This suggests that there is a gap to close.  Context-based chemistry learning may be conceptualized as integrating “an educational, an empirical and a political point of view” (Parchmann, Blonder, & Broman, 2017, p. 26).  The co-authors describe context-based learning (CBL) frameworks that “connect contexts and content, through activities aiming to develop competences, in many ways”; the learning materials serve to “raise the students’ interest, activate the students’ pre-knowledge, guide them through scientific investigations, offer situations for the application of the newly developed knowledge and for connecting this new knowledge to general structures like basic concepts” (Parchmann, Blonder, & Broman, 2017, p. 29).  This work builds on Peter Mahaffy’s “chemical tetrahedron” (2006) approach, where the interrelated elements involve the “context/situation” at the top, the “phenomena” in the next layer down, and then the “models and theories” and “representations” at the base level, each affecting the other elements in this model (Parchmann, Blonder, & Broman, 2017, p. 33). Where experts may look to mathematical or chemical formulas, non-experts often look to terminology and visuals—so representations of chemicals and processes differ (p. 33).    

Further, this work builds on the concept of “Responsible Research and Innovation” (RRI) adopted in the European Union; RRI requires consideration of professional and personal ethics in science practice and education (Parchmann, Blonder, & Broman, 2017, p. 34).  A reasoned 6E-model (based on the IRRESISTIBLE project in the EU) takes learners through the following phases:  engage, explore, explain, elaborate, exchange, and evaluate.  Here, learner attention is first engaged to the topic.  Questions and other approaches may be used to help learners explore the issue in more depth.  Students explain the issue, apparently in a practical and problem-solving approach.  Further explorations are engaged.  The newly acquired knowledge is shared further in the “exchange” phase.  And then the learning is formally evaluated through an assessment (with global and local perspectives) (Parchmann, Blonder, & Broman, 2017, p. 35).  The CBL modification in chemistry education has shifted from teaching chemistry “based on the structure of the content to teaching chemistry according to knowledge that is needed to comprehend a chosen chemistry-rich context” (p. 36).  

Earth Science for Earthlings

Nir Orion’s “The Relevance of Earth Science for Informed Citizenship:  Its Potential and Fulfillment” (Ch. 3) argues that a curricular “essentialism” means focuses on “traditional virtues” and less on “the essence of personal relevance,” and that this approach means less focus on the study of Earth (“the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the energy we use, the buildings we live and work in, and the materials used for our daily lives”) (p. 41).  Interwoven in this vision is the idea of the importance of learner self-determination about topics of interest.  

Generally, Earth Science involves the study of the geosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, atmosphere, and how these sub-systems influence the biosphere and are influenced by it.  This study includes research into humanity’s influences on Earth and how to design sustainable existence so as not to deplete or contaminate or misuse natural resources.   Orion proposes some innovations to the general curricular approach: “environmental insight, thinking skills, and establishing the platform for the ‘science for all’ curriculum” to make Earth Sciences more applicable to the common citizen (p. 43).  In 1997, two tenets of environmental insight include “(1) the understanding that we live in a cycling world that is built upon a series of subsystems (geosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere) that interact through an exchange of energy and materials; and (2) the understanding that people are a part of nature, and thus must act in harmony with its ‘laws’ of cycling” (Orion, 1997, as cited in Orion, 2017, p. 43).  The “thinking skills” seem to describe a kind of science- and empirical-based worldview across expanses of space and time:  

Learning Earth Science offers the distinct potential of seeing through the landscape and through time.  Its many subjects unite to conceive the world as dynamic, interacting systems, each composed of stabilizing cycles. These systems operate on many scales in time and place, some so vast that they challenge the limits of the imagination. The Earth Sciences represent phenomena of interest in diverse visual forms:  contour maps, block diagrams, and virtual views of the interior of the Earth, its surface features, its motion in space, and its changing climate. These representations place distinctive demands on the cognitive capacities of learners.  Making sense of the Earth’s processes and patterns, structures and changes, and systems and cycles depends upon visualization and spatial reasoning as well as recognizing bias in the human-scale perception of events.  Understanding how the Earth works requires retrospection and retrodiction by making inferences about the past. By interpreting the present as the outcome of natural experiments on vast scales and sleuthing out its causal history, Earth Sciences set the stage for extrapolating about possible future events.  These extrapolations provide us with information about risks, ranging from seismic to atmospheric.  On local, regional, and global scales, humans interact with the Earth’s natural systems, becoming agents of geologic, climatic, and evolutionary changes. (Orion, 2017, p. 44)

The thinking necessarily includes conceiving of “very large-scale phenomena” in geographic time scales (p. 45).  And the third element, the platform of “science for all” involves how to approach the teaching of science—whether in a reductionist “physics first” sort of approach at one end or an integrated holistic approach at the other, or some approach that combines the formalism of the respective science disciplines but also a “less hierarchical” approach (Orion, 2017, p. 45).  This chapter then includes a summary of some 20 independent mixed-methods studies of K12 learners (mostly Israeli) experiencing various Earth Science programs.  


Figure 3.  “Compass” (by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay)

David Lambert’s essay “The Relevance of Geography for Citizenship Education” (Ch. 4) takes a historical approach to consider geography education (and various public figures and others have debated various approaches).  This work also identifies some of its pedagogical lapses in the past and implications for teaching and learning improvement today for various potential futures.  The remaking of citizenship education with a geographical component, has to take into account the short “assumed concentration span” of people (“three minutes”) and other cultural shifts like selfie celebrity culture and “social media tyranny” (Lambert, 2017, p. 67).   A “Future 3 curriculum,” involving a knowledge-led curriculum and progressive motivations, requires buy-in from “school managers, executives, principals and senior leadership teams” and frontline classroom teachers to engage all learners (Lambert, 2017, pp. 68 - 69).  

Beyond Naïve Physics

Marco Antonio Moreira, in “The Relevance of Physics Knowledge for Citizenship and the Incoherence of Physics Teaching” (Ch. 5), argues that much of the teaching of physics triggers negative reactions because it is not positioned as a citizen’s right to learn (and not often tied to citizenship education) and is not made meaningful.  Typically, physics education is “teaching for testing” and does not often have a scientific basis in terms of informing teaching methodologies (Moreira, 2017, p. 74).  What may be more effective is “meaningful learning” in the sense that there is “meaning attached” to the learning, “with comprehension, capability to explain, describe, apply, transfer, and to face new situations” and the internal and external motivations to engage (Moreira, 2017, p. 76).  The prior cannot be achieved by teaching to rote learning alone in a decontextualized or un-situated way (p. 77).  The author goes on to address various pedagogical approaches involving situatedness, concept-teaching, model use, Freire-ian questions and resulting dialogues, and other approaches for a “critical meaningful learning” approach by the author which comes with a mix of theory-informed principles (of “social interaction and questioning,  the non-centrality of the textbook in teaching, the learner as perceiver/representator, knowledge as language, semantic consciousness, learning from mistakes, unlearning, the uncertainty of knowledge, (and) disclaiming the chalkboard and the narrative”), which the author describes lightly (Moreira, 2017, pp. 80-81).    

Part 2: Approaches to Improving Contextualized Science and Geography Learning

Learning through the Great Outdoors…which is Just Outside

In “Promoting Experiences in Outdoor Environments as a Way of Enhancing Interest and Engaging Learning” (Ch. 6), Marc Behrendt and Krisanna Machtmes harness experiential learning and learner autonomy as key approaches to enhancing teaching and learning, from formal or structured to unstructured or free-choice learning.  Based on Kolb’s learning cycle (concrete learning, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation, in an iterative cycle), learners can engage situated learning outdoors in ways that are “personally relevant and interdisciplinary” (Berendt & Machtmes, 2017, p. 92).  Some types of learning may be more authentic outdoors.  School yards may be set up for outdoor learning to perk up students.  There may be incidental types of learning on a hike or during a camping trip or in gardening.  Photography may be engaged effectively outdoors and enhance a number of different skills.  Global Positioning System (GPS) applications may be used to heightened the sense of specific location.  Certainly, in the age of COVID-19, outdoor learning  may be more bio-safe.  The co-authors share some ideas on how to evaluate the efficacy of the learning outdoors.  

Figure 4.  "Outdoors" (by Valiphotos on Pixabay)

Billy McClune’s “Making the Most of the News:  Approaches to Using Media-Based Learning Contexts” (Ch. 7) highlights the importance of an informed citizenry capable of vetting news coverage of science and to ask appropriate questions and arrive at reasoned responses.  This work proposes an approach to reading news critically by developing literacy skills, media awareness, “discerning habits of mind” [described as “the characteristics of inquisitiveness and healthy skepticism (McClune, 2017, p. 114)], and subject knowledge (McClune, 2017, p. 107).  If set up pedagogically, media can help bridge academic learning to actual societal concerns.  To demonstrate how this might work, the case of solar power in Morocco is used as an exemplar and also of plastics and microplastics. 

Systems Analysis Competencies

Doris Elster, Nicklas Müller, and Sebastian Drachenberg’s “Promotion of System Competence Based on the Syndrome Approach in Pre-Service Biology Teacher Education” (Ch. 8) describes a pre-service training for learners in a Master of Education program to promote “inquiry-based science education” (IBSE) to engage issues of biodiversity loss and climate change.  In this curriculum, environmental problems are conceptualized as “disease patterns in earth systems that can be investigated using the syndrome approach” (p. 123).  A core case of study:  the loss of the European lobster population around Helgoland, the North Atlantic Island.  As part of the study is a visually mapped complex master syndrome network (Miller & Drachenberg, as cited in Elster, Müller, & Drachenberg, 2017, p. 127), to show complex interrelationships, given the intertwining of human society, economic practices, and biology.   The course is described in close detail through its various modules  and includes excursions and a simulation game.  The curricular materials and the designed learning were assessed based on multi-methods research (including interviews) with the student teachers, with resulting insights of the learners’ system competence for solving hard ill-structured problems (such as environmental ones).  The innovative learning was enabled by collaborations between the university and a research center, a foundation, a zoo, and other entities. 

Applied Problem-Based Learning

Laurinda Leite, Luís Dourado, Ana S. Afonso, and Sofia Morgado, in “Context-Based Science Education and Four Variations of Problem-Based Learning” (Ch. 9), suggest that the portrayal of science as “a body of unquestionable knowledge developed by some geniuses that were lucky enough to make their discoveries” makes science too remote from people’s everyday lives.  The hagiography around science dissuades contemporary students from seeing science as something that they can engage in or phenomena with impacts on their daily lives.  To address this, they propose problem-based learning in four variations:  place-based learning (focused around the learners’ community), problem-based learning (focused on practical addressing of obstacles), project-based learning, and design-based learning (a form of project-based learning in which an artifact is created) to bridge learners to lived or “contextualized” science (p. 143, p. 145).  Each approach is described based on the theorizing and practices, with an assessment of its strengths and weaknesses for learning contextualized science.  

Isabel P. Martins and Alcina Mendes’ “Contextualized Science Teaching and the STS Approach” (Ch. 10) explores the reciprocal interactions between various sectors in the Science-Technology-Society (STS) and their implications on the teaching of science. The co-authors study how STS approaches are applied in different locales around the world, with a focus on both national-level assessments and international test performance comparisons.  The co-authors describe a cogent integration between contextualized science teaching and social STS approaches from the 1980s onwards, and they shed light on logical decision-making for how to identify relevant contexts for particular science teaching.  Of special note is Gilbert’s (2014) four main models of teaching science in context (p. 173).  Martins and Mendes bridge well the theory and the practice of didactics of science with social and contextual applications.  They observe:  

The relevance of a context for teaching science depends on whether are (sic) not its exploration turns out as adequate for the study of new concepts i.e., providing teaching sequences that are effective to meet the learning outcomes.  In operational terms, the relevance of a context does not just derive from the attributes of the chosen socio-scientific situation, it is also essential that it allows for the specific terminology and the target concepts to be used. Moreover, the relevance depends on how a situation might be didactically transformed into a teaching context. This means that it depends largely on the teacher, on his/her training, teaching experience and professional competence.  (Martins & Mendes, 2017, p. 176) 

In their analysis, this work offers a fifth criterion to Gilbert’s four:  “the educational relevance of the context requires that the scientific explanations of phenomena inherent to a socio-scientific situation need to be developed by the scientific community and understood by teachers” (Martins & Mendes, 2017, p. 177); if not, the scientific context might result in superficial understandings and be a misfire for contextualized and STS-informed science-based learning.  

Harnessing Indigenous Knowledge

Mariana G. Hewson’s “Contextualizing Science Teaching in Southern Africa using Indigenous Knowledge” (Ch. 11) bases her work on a simple premise:  “When students from one culture try to learn concepts situated in a different culture, paradigmatic conflicts may occur, which makes learning difficult” (p. 184) and proposes “Tailored Teaching” as a way to teach science to students with native backgrounds.  She writes:  

Indigenous people (indigenes) can be found in diverse countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South America, the United States of America, North and South Asia, and Africa.  Indigenes are culturally different from westerners:  they have may diverse indigenous languages; they have developed their own political systems; follow social patterns concerning the seasons of planting, reaping and storing; puberty, and life rites concerning getting married, giving birth and eventually dying.  They identify strongly with their particular geographic regions especially concerning their economic systems, legal systems, methods of building indigenous buildings, ways of planting and harvesting, and teaching their children. In so many ways, indigenes are not part of the Western industrial world. The biggest difference between the knowledge of indigenes and that of westerners concerns their ways of knowing—their epistemology.  (Hewson, 2017, p. 184)  

In the S. African context where she worked, she points to indigenous knowledge that predates those of Western colonial powers and points to a continuous lineage of knowledge that has evolved to the present independent of Western paradigms.  (Hewson, 2017, p. 185)  From here, she offers a comparison and contrast between indigenous and Western worldviews, at a general level.  For example, about “goals of human intellect,” she writes:  “Westerners aim to eradicate ignorance and mystery by describing, explaining, exploring, discovering, creating, and exploiting the natural world for the benefit of humans.  On the other hand, African indigenes seek the harmonious coexistence of knowledge and mystery.  They accept the existence of multiple truths and the power of spiritual forces” (Hewson, 2017, p. 186).    

To help bridge from the Western science worldview to the indigenous ones of some learners, her Tailored Teaching model (originally “Conceptual Bridging” in 1982) involves five steps:  

“Prepare – orient students to the topic.
Ask- elicit students’ ideas (conceptions).  
Teach – instruct students using methods tailored to these ideas.
Apply – relate the new ideas to real life situations. 
Review – check on ideas that students remember from lesson.” (Hewson, 2017, p. 189)  

She interviewed various Xhosa and Basotho community leaders in S. Africa to understand core values that they believed should be in the science curriculum.  She found that the healers believed that “the curriculum should re-introduce and reinforce the African heritage” and that it should “emphasize the usefulness of plants and animals to humans” (Hewson, 2017, p. 190) and “teach about the interdependence of all living things and the need for sustainable agriculture” (p. 191) and “emphasize healthy living and appropriate sexual practices” and integrate ”traditional African teaching methods” (p. 191).   This researcher goes on to explore some lessons and teaching plans with the indigenous knowledge integrated.  

Part 3:  Curriculum Materials and Context-Based Learning 

International Science Education

Cecília Galvão, Mónica Baptista and Teresa Conceição’s “International Science Education Projects for Context-Based Learning” (Ch. 12) summarize some findings from two European Union-funded projects:  PARSEL (Popularity and relevance of science education for scientific literacy) and SAILS (Strategies for assessment of inquiry learning in science).  Universities should partner with science centres for co-developing learning, so there are contents from both academia and the professions.  The PARSEL modules offer a three-stage approach:  setting the scene, inquiry-based problem-solving, and then socio-scientific decision-making (p. 204); the SAILS project focuses on inquiry-based science with students engaged in “hypothesis formation, collaborative work, reasoning, planning investigations, scientific reasoning and scientific literacy” (Finlayson, et al., 2016, as cited in Galvão, Baptista, & Conceição, 2017, p. 205).  The researchers describe several of the learning sequences from both projects and analyze the efficacy of the teaching and learning using multi-methods assessments and research (including of how groups collaborated, learner competence assessments, learner experiences, and others).   One of the projects involved finding ways to achieve energy savings in a school and another about alternate cleaning products in daily life.  

Spatial Citizenship through GPS, Geotechnologies, Geomedia, and Geodata

Jana Pokraka, Inga Gryl, Uwe Schulze, Detlef Kanwischer, and Thomas Jekel’s “Promoting Learning and Teaching with Geospatial Technologies using the Spatial Citizenship Approach” (Ch. 13) advances traditional education in geospatial technologies for workforce preparation to citizen development.  The research team for this work suggests that theirs is not a critical approach “that necessarily opposes the state or society, but rather to provide tools for taking part in social issues beyond participating in formal decision-making processes, i.e., elections” (p. 225).  In this context, spatial thinking refers to “orientation and spatial reasoning in several fields, including the sciences” and spatial citizenship refers to the bringing in of the “social realm (including human-environment-relations) into geotechnology learning” (p. 223).  Also, GeoSpatial Technology (GST) is the general term for the technologies in this context, not the less contemporaneous term Geographical Information Systems or “GIS.” In the current Geoinformation Age, with geolocational technologies in smart phones and mobile devices, geo in social media, and geodata aplenty, the spatial citizenship learning involves how people use space for various individual and collective actions and to what ends and in what ways (p. 228). The competencies of study in this space involve various harnessing of technologies, methodologies, reflecting on space, communicating spatial ideas, applying the learning to citizenship education, and designing and implementing various geospatial actions (pp. 231 – 232).  A common pedagogical model, the TPACK model (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge model by Mishra and Koehler in 2006), is seen to be applicable to this space (p. 230), where the teacher integrates complex domains of knowledge.  In this work, the coauthors describe an engaging assignment of subjective mapping, extend the uses of personal space to public space usage, and discuss their insights with others in insightful ways.  They suggest that intersectionality components may further enhance this experiential learning sequence.  This chapter is one of the more engaging and creative ones.  

Geology Learning through Historical Cases 

Clara Vasconcelos and Joana Faria’s “Case-Based Curricula Materials for Contextualized and Interdisciplinary Biology and Geology Learning” (Ch. 14) proposes using historical cases for interdisciplinary learning.  They present a curious historical case of “geological materials to treat health problems” as a way to bring in geology to multi-science learning.  The core case here involved the geomedicine-based treatment of syphilis with mercury (a metal with toxic properties to humans) in the 15th century, then arsenic (a semi-metal which is also toxic), and then ultimately (and actually effectively) penicillin (p. 245).  Vasconcelos and Faria make a cogent argument for the uses of historical cases to help interweave complex sciences into coherent applied learning.  They provide a powerful overview of standards in case-based learning to underpin the selection of the historical events that may be used in such learning.  The pedagogical method here is highly transferable and effective for mingling science disciplines and also evoking human history and culture and belief systems.  

Infusing Context in Chemistry Education in Slovenia

Figure 5.  “Chemistry” (by Memed Nurrohmad on Pixabay) 

The nature of chemistry education in Slovenia figures centrally in Iztok Devetak’s “Context-Based Teaching Material and Learning Chemistry” (Ch. 15).  In this central European country, the teaching of chemistry is often fragmented and decontextualized:   “Even at the lower secondary level, the national curriculum for chemistry is goal- and content-oriented, and only fragmented context application of information is suggested to teachers and textbook authors.  Textbooks, therefore, offer fragmented information about the application of chemistry in nature, everyday life, society, industry, history, etc., and no textbook for lower secondary school chemistry (students aged 13 – 14) presents chemistry in context” (Devetak, 2017, p. 261).  Of late, this nation has moved to integrate Context-Based Chemistry Material (CBCM) for teaching and learning.   

One working definition of chemical literacy is defined as the ability to use chemical knowledge “to identify questions, to acquire new knowledge, to explain chemical phenomena, and to draw evidence-based conclusions about chemistry-related issues.  It also includes an understanding of the characteristic features of chemistry as a form of human knowledge and enquiry, an awareness of how chemistry and chemical technology shape our material, intellectual, and cultural environments, and a willingness to engage in chemistry-related issues as a reflective citizen” (adapted from DeBoer, 2000, as cited in Devetak, 2017, p. 267).  

The author analyzes Slovenian chemistry textbooks to better understand the various frameworks used in chemistry education.  Interestingly, chemistry education starts in preschool with children “aged 1 – 5 observe and describe certain very basic chemical phenomena” (Devetak, 2017, pp. 269 – 270).  After the analyses, Devetak looks at national and international-level data about learner performance on a standardized science exam.  Here, Slovenian students “achieved higher scores than the average of the OECD countries” in the PISA test although other countries with a longer tradition of context-based science education performed better (p. 273).  The author follows with a questionnaire of textbook authors’ views on context in Slovenian chemistry textbooks.  In the conclusion are reasoned suggestions for instantiating Context-Based Chemistry Material for learning.  

Evaluating Context-Based Teaching Materials

In the last chapter of this collection, Neslihan Ültay and Eser Ültay propose various critical points and quality standards to be applied to “Evaluating Context-Based Teaching Materials” (Ch. 16).  These include taking students’ “operational and instructional goals into account” in the learning design; including context-based teaching materials in three categories (“fundamental content knowledge, a context-science-technology cycle, and knowledge development”); enabling learners to “acquire daily-life experiences”; and the posing of “novel problems” to provoke higher-order thinking skills, among others (Ültay & Ültay, 2017, p. 283).  This chapter involves more detailed explorations of the various pedagogical development steps in the creation of context-based teaching of science materials and include insightful rubrics and varied examples.  


Laurinda Leite, Luís Dourado, Ana S. Afonso, and Sofia Morgado’s edited collection, Contextualizing Teaching to Improve Learning:  The Case of Science and Geography, makes a solid case for contextualizing science learning in a way that learners can see the relevance in their own daily lives and can apply the learning to their citizenship behaviors.   

About the Author

Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer / researcher at Kansas State University.  Her email is  

Thanks to Nova Science Publishers for a complimentary watermarked review copy of the book.  

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