THE SOCIAL REPRESENTATIONS OF (GREEN) CHEMISTRY AND ROBOTICS AMONG TEENAGERS: AN EXPLORATORY STUDY
1 Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto (PORTUGAL)
2 Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade do Porto (PORTUGAL)
About this paper:
Conference name: 8th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2016
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Abstract:The purpose of the research is to identify the most common social representations of chemistry, green chemistry, robotics and sustainability among teenagers as they were engaging in a project that links robotics and green chemistry. Subjects were students from a school in the north of Portugal enrolled in year 9 (n = 163, 73 males and 86 females, 4 missing values, mean age around 15 years-old). Data was collected through a questionnaire that consisted of four open-ended, free association questions. Participants were asked to express their ideas and thoughts on each one of the four mentioned stimuli and asked to draw a robot. Written responses and drawings of robots were submitted to a content analysis. Preliminary results showed that the ten most frequent words associated with chemistry explain around 49% of the semantic field (average of 4.5 words per participant) and largely consist of conceptual elements, e.g., atoms (38), protons (22) and ions (22), experiments (114), laboratory (62) and explosions (19). The ten most frequent words associated with green chemistry explain around 49% of the semantic field of the representation. Participants - which never have learnt about green chemistry at school curriculum - filled their representations (2.8 words per participant) with elements derived from environment (e.g., nature, environment, trees, ...). Only 92 participants defined sustainability, many of them associating the concept with earth’s natural resources and future. The ten most frequent words associated with robotics (4.1 words per participant) explain around 53% of the semantic field which consists of robots (129), technology (50), electricity (39), metal (33), energy (20), circuits (18) and computers (17): electronics rather than informatics contribute for the representation. Most of the drawings of robots were anthropomorphic resembling more C-3PO than R2-D2 from Star Wars movies. Human elements, such as eyes, mouth and hands are largely present while movement is assured by means of feet or wheels. The significance of the study is that there is a décalage between science and technology developments and teenager audience understanding. From the point of view of the theory of social representations, this gap is not only expected but also understandable. Popular culture although still inspire the representation of chemistry is not as relevant as it would be if participants have not attended physics and chemistry classes for three years. On the other hand, since green chemistry and robotics are not included in the ordinary curriculum until year 9, the concepts are at loose and their meaning must be grounded elsewhere. Despite the impressive and rapid changes that characterize the technology research, its market and advertising, old metaphors and symbols still contribute to build the representations of teenagers about robotics while green chemistry – a relatively new approach – has its poor semantic field rooted in chemistry and environment. School, thus, must act as a medium to help students to build a coherent worldview that is capable of copying with contemporary challenges, strongly affected by science and technology namely regarding sustainability. An ongoing project is designed to introduce green chemistry experiments that involve slow reactions via a programmable robotic arm in the school laboratory to conduct. The planned activities include monitoring experiences by students at home by means of a live webcam.
Keywords: Social representations, STEM education, chemistry education, green chemistry, robotics.