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Chemistry 3.1: Practical Nightmare

At last! For me, having handed my report in today, Chemistry 3.1 (Extended Practical Investigation) is officially over. It is a time to celebrate, a time for rejoice, and a time to look forward to the future. A time to look forward, because I don’t ever want to see, hear or think about that standard again.

In hindsight, it is difficult to determine what I really learnt from the investigation. That carrying out an extended practical investigation in chemistry under pressure is very, very, very stressful? That it’s even harder when you have to share what is often insufficient equipment with 25 other people? That, at Level 8 of the New Zealand Curriculum, there are very, very few things you could investigate even if you wanted to?

No, sirs and madams, it is there to meet the requirement from page fourteen of Chemistry in the New Zealand Curriculum that "by the time they have completed Level 8, students will have carried out at least one extended practical investigation." An "extended practical investigation" that pushes not only students, but schools and their dedicated staff to their limits.

It places, to understate things, heavy expectations on school resources. Resources have to be organised to allow students to carry out their investigation, and if it was anything like our school — whose facilities are, I believe, commendable — we always seemed to be short of glassware. I figure schools of a lower socio-economic area would be somewhat disadvantaged in this standard. No doubt it would have been an organisational nightmare — even if things weren’t set out individually, just all stuck in one classroom. Well, it was an organisational nightmare for us, with waiting for other students to finish with chemicals so that we could make our solutions, and with finding conical flasks, and the like.

The generic template for the standard recommends that "students have three weeks of class time to complete the practical work." We had nine days, but three-fifths of the recommended time. Now, an investigation involves trialling and two sets of data-collecting analyses, which may not sound like much but, to do it to a good standard, takes a lot of time. Having time compressed didn’t help much at all.

The stress, the frustration, the failed trials, the fool who asked can we please make up our results, the sheer horror of having any part in any part of this investigation — technician, student, assessor — and what for? Let’s be fair, I haven’t learnt anything of any use to me. Okay, fine, nothing I learn in high school will ever be of any use to me, but at least, it was not knowledge I gained in completing the investigation (unless my findings were actually accurate). The experience I gained, I suspect, is anything but what a practical investigation is truly like. The time spent on it is so useless, in fact, that some half of students who are brave enough to embark on this slippery road decide to take a sideroad leading away from it at some point or another.

The clichéed idea of looking forward could not be more appropriate here. Which means removing the standard altogether, because there’s very little point in it. I’m sure, if need be, the time could be spent explaining a few more half-truths that are so often thrown at us in a chemistry course.

Thankfully, the nightmare is now safely behind me. I am walking away from it with my gaze fixed ahead of me, wishing to not spare what my mark could be a single thought. It is over, all of it, and over shall it forever remain.

Related Links

  • Achievement Standard 90694: Chemistry 3.1 (DOC format)
  • Achievement Standard 90694: Chemistry 3.1 (PDF format)
  • Internal Assessment Resource supporting Chemistry 3.1: Generic Template

    The achievement standard refered to is AS90694, subject reference Chemistry 3.1, "Carry out an extended practical investigation involving quantitative analysis".

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