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Narratives as Tools in Designing the School Chemistry Curriculum

AGNETA BOSTRÖM
ABSTRACT: This article is based on results from a research project which focused on chemistry teachers and student narratives from lived experience. The purpose was to find a way to make abstract chemistry more meaningful. The project began with six experienced teachers who used narratives and stories as a didactic tool. These narratives stemmed from the teachers individual lived experience and thus were designed differently. Later, interviews with students showed that five adult students and six younger students all appreciated the use of narratives as a meaning-making activity to help them grasp the abstract subject. The most interesting finding was that the students revealed several narratives from their own lives where the theories of chemistry played an important role in explaining events that otherwise had been mysterious to them. Thus the teachers and students showed that the ancient human method of sharing experience through narrative is still alive and useful in chemistry education. KEYWORDS: Case studies, chemical education, context-based learning, curriculum didactic design, meaning-making, narrative, scientific discourse, school subject, story.

This article concerns the school subject chemistry and investigates how the curriculum has changed over time. Some reflection is provided on how school traditions use the scientific discourse in the chemistry curriculum. As the ROSE project (Schreiner & Sjøberg, 2004; Schreiner, 2006) shows many students in the western world avoid science programs in school. New teaching approaches have been developed and introduced to provide the student with a context for learning. The Storyline method, Salter’s approach, and Case Methodology are based on the context of using a narrative thread. In the final part of the paper, I present some narratives stemming from my research, which emphasize how these narratives are interwoven with the chemistry courses taught, thus contributing to the learning that continuously goes on in class. School chemistry and other subjects, are defined in the curriculum and interpreted in local
Interchange, Vol. 39/4, 391–413, 2008. DOI 10.1007/s10780-008-9072-1 © Springer 2008

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documents and in textbooks. The final design of chemistry takes place in the classroom, where teachers and students encounter and jointly discuss their interpretation of the subject in a process where the thoughts, ideas, and values of the subject are expressed and shared in a narrative discourse. In August 2000, a Russian submarine with a crew of 118 sank in the icy waters of the Barents’ Sea, as described by CNN.1 A chemistry teacher realised that this dramatic episode, where the crew eventually died, also contained a lot of chemistry related issues. Did the crew die from a lack of oxygen or was it because there was much too high a concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere within the submarine? The teacher, Carl, was happy with the test he had constructed, based on the tragic accident when the nuclear submarine Kursk went down. He designed questions arising from this real life narrative. The students were fascinated by questions about how long the oxygen would suffice. The stoichiometric formulas and the calculations according to the gas laws became a natural part of the narrative. The students enjoyed the test and worked hard with the solutions. Normal air contains 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon, 0.3% carbon dioxide and some trace amounts of other gases. Human beings breathe oxygen and use it for combustion of food. The waste produced is carbon dioxide. In the enclosed atmosphere within a submarine, oxygen is consumed and carbon dioxide can build up to dangerous levels, if nothing is done to prevent it happening. An electrolysis cell decomposing water to hydrogen and oxygen produces the required oxygen. The hydrogen can be collected in metal sponges, absorbing it as metal hydrides. The oxygen is then collected and compressed. It can thus be bled or sourced into the submarines atmosphere. Carbon dioxide causes no ill effect at a level, below 2%. In higher concentrations, one might develop an inability to breathe (dyspnea), and experience an increased pulse rate as well as dizziness.2 In very high concentrations, it causes convulsions, loss of consciousness, and even death. Therefore the carbon dioxide must be removed on an ongoing basis. This is accomplished by processing the gas with a strong base. Carbon dioxide yields carbonic acid with water and this produces limestone with calcium hydroxide. The limestone is not soluble in basic solution, making it precipitate. All of this chemistry is inherent in the content of the chemistry syllabus in upper secondary school. Combustion reactions, electrolysis, metal hydrides, the gas laws, and

NARRATIVES AS TOOLS IN DESIGNING CURRICULUM 393 stoichiometrics must be known. The subjects partially originate in the university disciplines which still characterize them partly in the applications in practical work. by which the meaning of individual events can be understood. aroused their interest greatly. and Linné (2001). In spite of reforms. But comprehensive and well structured arguments for school knowledge that is included in the subject found in curricula and text books are sometimes missing. Chemistry was set in a useful context and the abstract theories were shown to have great value for human enterprises. One is the academic tradition. suggesting that a story or narrative consists of a sequence of events. The Role of the School Subject One aspect which is decisive for how individual school subjects in science are shaped is influenced by the teachers’ education as well as the traditions of the individual schools. However. a new level of relational significance or discursivity is created. within the plot. In Science the borders between the school . The prince cried. connected to a well-known event. What is a Narrative? Polkinghorne (1995) summarized the research about narratives or stories. In a story the crying of the prince is a reaction to the father’s death and in this way the narrative creates a context for understanding the crying. two traditions. were excited about the project. the teaching profession during the nine-year compulsory school system in Sweden is dominated. according to him. both are described by Löfdahl (1987). the other is the seminar tradition. Polkinghorne used two simple statements to illustrate his thinking – “The king died. The teacher who used this narrative provided the possibility for this test to be carried out by highly motivated students who. if this chemistry is to be understood. when connected to a story. these statements describe two independent events. characterised by the meaningmaking significance carried. The narrative. He identified action and event. by primarily. Östman (1995). A discourse can be defined as a form of communication where some aspects are excluded and some are included in a fashion that is governed by rules designed to deliver meaning. The narrative is a special kind of discourse. organised into a whole by means of a plot. What we regard as a subject in school is dependent on historical traditions. A plot is a kind of scheme.” Isolated on their own. The tradition in school is to combine older knowledge with new perspectives.

Wolpert (1992) and Cromer (1993) describe the communicative problems this trend implies. are often considered to be unscientific and thus unacceptable by many academically trained teachers.394 AGNETA BOSTRÖM subjects still are Biology. Östman (1998) has discussed how students are required to learn new rules for talking and behaving in order to participate in the scientific discourse. writes Selander (2001). alien to student’s ordinary every-day language. at least in scientific contexts. an acceptable way of talking about and relating to nature. School Traditions The science tacher in secondary school represents the knowledge tradition of her or his area and is often educated only in one academic tradition. and that knowledge is mediated to the students. In upper secondary school there are two extreme . Didactics of science could in this context be regarded as a meeting place where the content of knowledge is reflected upon. Science for All How the content of science teaching is chosen is a matter decided upon for the purposes and goals decision-makers implement through the school authorities. Taking part in the scientific discourse requires. The importance of context for teachers’ thoughts and actions are described in teacher thought research by Goodson (1992). at the same time as the conditions for learning are illuminated. based on results produced by other methods than those generally accepted. The Scientific Discourse Results and methods stemming from scientific research are often normative for how school science is taught and this is reflected in the academic tradition of upper secondary school. Knowledge. The teachers’ knowledge is transformed and transferred to the next generation via the teachers’ thoughts and the traditions of the scientific society. and the existing conventions for establishing meaning and what should be awarded significance tends to influence the scientific discourse. Physics. for example narratives or knowledge through experienced practice. and Chemistry while late knowledge areas as Biophysics do not exist. One element often emphasized in science teaching is that researchers have generally agreed about hypotheses that have been proven to be sustainable under experimental conditions. Solomon (1993) described how language usage. as Duschl (1988) has pointed out.

argued for the same goals. or gene technology. p. irrespective of its purpose. 2) The utilitarian argument: Science is necessary in order to manage and master every-day life in a modern society. Justi. Erduran and Scerri (2003) stated that deeper philosophical reflections concerning the nature of chemistry explanations might promote students conceptual learning. 2000. who in a series of articles and through his actions has pleaded for science for all. an ongoing discussion concerns whether or not philosophy should be incorporated within chemistry. necessary in a democracy. The dynamic development occurring within chemistry makes it difficult to decide what to include in school chemistry. 4) The cultural argument: Science is an important part of the human culture. The first two stress the instrumental parts of teaching while the last two are orientated toward a more social and cultural view of education. Treagust and Van Driel (2003) stated that what and how chemistry should be taught remains yet to be satisfactorily clarified. Gilbert. 95% of a group of university students had difficulties interpreting the atomic model by Bohr. suggesting four primary arguments for each of the scientific subjects in school. asserting that scientific knowledge is a civil right. discuss.NARRATIVES AS TOOLS IN DESIGNING CURRICULUM 395 approaches on the spectrum. The other position holds the view that scientific understanding is a civic knowledge. Wandersee and Griffard (2003) expressed the view that the “distillation” of a complex course of events or models to a theme applicable to practicing teachers is in itself a veritable challenge. and vote in matters concerning environmental issues. nuclear energy. De Jong. 3) The democratic argument: Scientific knowledge is important in order to be able to hold initiated opinions and hence to be a responsible citizen. (Sjøberg. . One holds the view that theoretical school subjects should prepare students for academic studies and therefore teaching should focus on proper science. Citizens have the right to be taught science since they are supposed to understand. 1) The economic argument: Science is profitable for professional life and education in a technological and science-based society. A representative for the latter opinion is Fensham (2000). 161) Trends in Chemistry Education Curriculum Matters Representatives for chemistry education have discussed the content of chemistry but have not offered general solutions as to what to include. Sjøberg (2000). For example. In a survey.

396 AGNETA BOSTRÖM The Sputnik Effect Changed the Curriculum How do we design a curriculum that makes chemistry interesting for students? How do we achieve an education program within the scientific area and for students that require science for the purposes of citizenship? Since 1960. This new trend was to be of significance for both theory and experiments. 24-25) . after a century of intensive research. that what remains will permit us to reconstruct the details when needed. Bruner (1960) chaired a 10-day curriculum conference in September 1959. 1960. Materials concerning technological and industrial applications were included. Structure is the fundamental principle to illuminate a field of study argued Bruner. the chemistry curriculum focused on chemistry as a scientific activity. Prior to the 1960s the textbooks in science contained descriptive sections. Descriptive chemistry was abandoned at the end of the 1950s when a committee consisting of nine teachers and nine professors in the United States founded a new orientation entitled The Chemical Bond Approach. it is rapidly forgotten. When the Soviet Union successfully implemented its space-program and launched the sputnik with the dog Laika on board in 1957. This change in the curriculum of one of the leading nations of the West correspondingly. is that unless detail is placed into a structural pattern. the United States administration reacted by introducing large scale changes to their science curriculum. A good theory is the vehicle not only for understanding a phenomenon now but also for remembering it tomorrow. Every-day applications of chemistry and industrial products as well as processes disappeared. (Bruner. DeBoer (1991) described different ideas shaping science teaching. Perhaps the most basic thing that can be said about human memory. Descriptive sections with a narrative content were removed and theoretical and abstract sections were added. and shortly later the first cosmonaut-controlled rockets into orbit. The curriculum has reverted from being more theoretical in an effort to present a chemical knowledge base applicable for all citizens of the future. wrote Van Driel (2003). What learning general or fundamental principles does is to ensure that memory loss will not mean total loss. indicating that students should learn the structure of chemistry and physics in order to actually think like scientists. They required an expanded recruitment base for scientists and technicians so as to seize back the initiative in terms of space technology. pp. influenced the curriculum for the rest of the world transforming textbooks.

and original. although students are positive to S&T in society. The ROSE Project International concern about young people’s lack of interest in careers in the area of science and technology (S&T) became the background for the ROSE project developed in Norway.3 In the 1980s. . In her doctoral thesis Schreiner (2006). He continued to believe that there was a need for structure for the enhancement of understanding and to ensure that memories are retained. ROSE stands for Relevance of Science Education. textbooks had been rewritten and future teachers were being told not to use a narrative discourse. These approaches can also be described as being context-based.NARRATIVES AS TOOLS IN DESIGNING CURRICULUM 397 Bruner was to change his opinion radically in later writings. believed Van Driel (2003). More context-based approaches to curriculum were developed. Context-Based Approaches Narratives have been used in approaches aiming at curriculum reform. he later came to change his mind and took the view that a narrative structure was the most important tool. and the project has revealed that young students in highly developed countries decline the opportunity to take S&T studies. for example Problem-based learning (PBL). and the first results point to the view that. exciting. the case for narratives grew stronger. However. Students wish to become something special. when the curriculum reverted toward presenting a knowledge base applicable to all citizens. based on questionnaires. or Case studies. drew some conclusions from the data. has been implemented in more than 40 countries. and clearly S&T has not been able to live up to these expectations. they do not consider the curriculum of the school subjects to be of relevance (Schreiner & Sjøberg 2004. The project. There seems to be a considerable requirement for change in the science curriculum and with regard to the teaching of science. Large Context Problems (LCP). Schreiner. the Salter’s method. But the viewpoint had already taken effect. 2006). the Storyline approach. while students in developing countries are found to be more enthusiastic. pointing to a connection between a country’s level of development and which careers are of interest to students.

as stated by Barr and McGuire (1993). 1994). The Salters’ Approach (1990-92) is a textbook introducing applied chemistry. given the tradition of storytelling in medicine. the method is gaining in popularity and more and more teachers and schools seem to use it. Parchmann and Waddington (2005. Using a questionnaire they found that both groups of teachers agreed that the context-based course was more motivating and students were more likely to go to university to study chemistry. and acting. following a storyline. reflecting. In Sweden. Bennett and Holman (2003) referred to two studies by Ramsden (1992. . p. On the other hand the context-based course was considered more demanding. The students learn by discovering. making this a good example of interweaving scientific and narrative traditions. and the ability of an individual story to act as the starting-point for problembased study” (p. Short “case studies” are used. The practice of medicine is considered to be genuinely scientific. 1997) showing that students who tried a contextbased approach were satisfied with the lessons. at least in primary school. investigating. They work with the reality they know. The Storyline Method A valuable way of integrating the curriculum is the storyline method. Falkenberg and Håkonsson (2000) defined the storyline approach as a method consisting of thematic. Gräsel. The method has been tested in other countries. This curriculum “lends itself well to a narrative approach. but proceeds as a narrative. problemoriented teaching episodes. Practicing teacher educators such as Persson (2002) and Piqueras5 use the approach. where it is important that the teaching does not circle around a central subject. Bennett. developed in Scotland during the last 20 years. et al. The Salter’s Method Science.4 Storyline is a method. incorporating the students’ enthusiasm for stories. talking. This method was developed in the United Kingdom as a curriculum alternative offering chemistry based on applications for students aged 11-18 (Campbell. 548). 1521) compared teachers’ views on context-based teaching.398 AGNETA BOSTRÖM Problem-Based Learning Skelton and Hammond (1998) reported how the medical curriculum is often approached narratively. The authors found that teachers and students using this method experienced a better classroom atmosphere. Those who simultaneously took traditional courses were more satisfied with the new approach.

They are not statements of what generally. conceptions. • Narratives place events in a frame of time and place. namely case studies. Shulman (1992) stated that a case contains a narrative. and a set of events unfolding over time in a particular place. It can include human protagonists but the central figures might also be planets. context. read books. They are. motives. minds. jealousies.” Case Studies Narratives are also connected to a dynamic area in teaching. middle. learning that their creativity and argumentation are valuable. (Shulman. They may well include a dramatic tension that must be relieved in some fashion. black holes. is or has been. or for the most part. They discuss “informal chemical education. These teaching narratives have certain shared characteristics: • Narratives have a plot – a beginning. located or situated. Human agency and intention are central to those accounts. Stocklmeyer and Gilbert (2003) considered situation. 1992. or volcanoes changing or evolving over time. p. 1993.” taking place outside the scheduled and structured educational system in schools and universities. Each LCP was designed so that all of the physics for each given major topic in physics was used. • Narratives are particular and specific. and narrative as ingredients in successful chemical education. • Narratives of action or inquiry reveal the working of human hands. misconceptions. When students watch television. Stinner developed Large Context Problems in response to the discovery that learning could be motivated by a context with one unifying central idea capable of capturing the student’s imagination.NARRATIVES AS TOOLS IN DESIGNING CURRICULUM 399 enlarging it supported by how they can use their imagination. Case studies are often used in medical education. and faults. a story. . 1995) described Large Context Problems (LCP) in teaching physics. 21) This description covers how narrative can be delimited. • Narratives reflect the social and cultural contexts within which the events occur. and end. Examples of Large Context Problems are outlined in Stinner (1980) “Physics and the Bionic Man” and Stinner and Winchester (1981) “The Physics of Star Trek. He developed Large Context Problems for different major topics in high school physics. needs. Large Context Problems (LCP) Stinner and Winchester (1981) and Stinner (1980. frustrations. local – that is. quite literally.

narrative imagining is also our fundamental form of evaluating. and use recognition and imagination when we use our capacity for narrative imagining. leading to disparate results. Many studies. Bennett and Holman (2003) discussed context-based approaches in chemical education. Narrative imagining is our fundamental form of predicting. we recognize the beginning sequence of a small spatial story. Hula Hoops and Playful Pigs and Emsley (1998) Molecules at an Exhibition as examples of their thinking. the authors claim that learning takes place in three steps: 1) The learner comes into contact with interesting situations. They pointed to a lack of systematic research-based evaluation of these approaches. claimed the authors. Why the Watermelon Won’t Ripen in Your Armpit. Turner stated that we. and respond. leading to better understanding.400 AGNETA BOSTRÖM papers. Narrative Meaning-Making One important contribution of the narratives is their influence on meaning-making. In this way. have been made. explaining how it contributes to our human capacity for prediction. When we decide that it is perfectly reasonable to place our plum on the dictionary but not the dictionary on our plum. An argument for context-based approaches is a raised motivation. and journals or visit museums and science centres. can project image schemes. they create a context that makes chemistry meaningful. we are both predicting and evaluating. Stocklmeyer and Gilbert used popular science books as Selinger (2000). We duck when we see someone cock an arm or throw a stone at us because we are predicting. Schwarcz (1999) Radar. Turner (1996) claimed that our capacity for narrative imagining must have been beneficial in an evolutionary sense. Evaluating the future of an act is evaluating the wisdom of the act. construct. evaluation. describing the ongoing trend to teach science in a context in the entire spectre of ages from the lower grades in compulsory school to higher levels. planning. and execute intricate sequences. 2) These situations are transformed to a context. It is difficult to do research in the area. who are equipped with human brains. 3) Learning takes place when the context is connected to a narrative from someone’s life. where it is possible to create meaning. . imagining the rest. and explanation.

The arguments for using narratives were that they connected to lived experience. The students’ and the teachers’ lived experiences turned out to be characterized by events where chemistry played a role and could explain puzzling phenomena and they also offered several examples of this. The connection to lived experience which the narratives offer seems to be important in making chemistry meaningful and worth knowing. presenting many examples of how this could be done. we try to imagine a story that begins from the normal situation and ends with the mysterious situation. The Research Project Before I became a teacher I had worked for 21 years as a chemical engineer in industry as well as in R&D funding. Narratives offer an over-view and can even stimulate passions in their most dramatic form. Experiences from the real world served to expand the curricular content. 20) Narratives Make Chemistry Meaningful The teachers in my study discussed the importance of making chemistry meaningful. They talked about the meaning-making qualities of narratives connecting with lived experience. We have constructed a story taking us from the original situation to the desired situation and executed the story. we have made and executed a plan. When a drop of water falls mysteriously from the ceiling and lands on our feet. and make chemistry meaningful. The story is the plan. Narratives from my own experience became integrated with the classroom . The story is the explanation. p. create a context. In this way. Teachers think that a real life context makes students realize that learning is meaningful. The students also wanted chemistry to be meaningful. narrative imagining is our fundamental cognitive instrument for planning. based on the Kursk accident. making it a multi-dimensional project. and walk to a new location in order to see it. …and make chemistry come alive. Teaching chemistry gave me a reason and an opportunity to further relate these experiences to others. made chemistry meaningful. was one example of this. Carl’s test. Narrative imagining is our fundamental cognitive instrument for explanation. providing examples of how to achieve this.NARRATIVES AS TOOLS IN DESIGNING CURRICULUM 401 When we hear something and want to see it. They create contact with everyday life. There were close connections between making chemistry meaningful and connecting the subject itself to lived experience. and created a context that made chemistry fun. (Turner. 1996.

in the Barents’ Sea. is used. Looking for patterns in the transcripts made me realize that there were many more narratives present than I had first realized. in spite of formal obstacles. My experiences from the outside world were brought into my project.” helped me make sense of the role of the narrative. in sequential interviews. amount of substance. abstract concepts. The interviews were designed in an open model inspired by a doctoral course from 2001. expressed by formulas and stoichiometric calculations. and matter. Furthermore. as outlined by Lindberg (2003). Their individual approaches to using narratives were clearly shown to be different. and complemented with updated texts by Gubrium and Holstein (2003). One teacher. together with her students. that all of the teachers used a narrative discourse as a teaching tool in one fashion or another. lead by Professor Agneta Linné. The realisation slowly grew on me. Six chemistry teachers at the upper secondary school level were interviewed. created a scenario concerning the life cycle of a chocolate bar. An inquiry guide. consisting of seven question areas.402 AGNETA BOSTRÖM discourse and contributed to the creation of meaning with school subjects’ sometimes experienced as being abstract and theoretical by students. was elaborated upon and the interviews were conducted as dialogues. specific to chemistry are used. Strömdahl (1996). of the transcribed interview. She had chosen to acquire her chemistry qualification at a technical university and because of this she encountered obstacles when she applied to the teacher education unit. Renström (1988). With chemistry a symbolic language. which started with the idea of finding out how my teacher colleagues. I realized I had found “the needle . The narrative itself occupied 11 out of 32 pages. created meaning in a subject that often was regarded as difficult and abstract. that did not have the same experience as I did. During one interview. During the following months I analysed the transcripts concurrently formulating a preliminary report. Presenting this. This narrative explained how she. for example. entitled “Narratives as Tools in the Classroom and in Research. with an interval of about one year between each of the two interviews. Another teacher created a test based on the accident on the nuclear submarine Kursk. the dialogue developed into a narrative concerning how the teacher had possessed the ambition to become a teacher since she had been 12 years of age. and Tullberg (1998) studied the consequences of these concepts in their dissertations. had persisted in her ambition and ultimately succeeded.6 stemming from reflections presented by Kvale (1996) and Mishler (1986). mole. A course at the Stockholm Institute of Education.

These individual narratives illustrated and illuminated descriptively chemistry7 events. Using the narrative expanded the theory. Examples The stories or narratives where chemistry played such an important role constituted a way of making the subject meaningful. Students’ Narratives I have complemented the interviews with the experienced chemistry teachers by interviews with students.” something which they long remembered. it has become increasingly important to understand teachers’ own thinking about his or her work. the gas laws are otherwise difficult to access for many. through the application of theoretical chemistry. The narratives originated in the personal experiences of teachers and students encountering one another in class. I also conducted one group interview with four students and two interviews with the individual students. and were intimately linked to personal experiences. I interviewed five adult students participating in an evening course at a corresponding level to the chemistry course at the upper secondary school. Britta’s narrative about the . I wanted to investigate how narratives told by chemistry teachers. Thus. My research focus thus eventually developed into looking at how narratives contribute to chemistry lessons.NARRATIVES AS TOOLS IN DESIGNING CURRICULUM 403 in the haystack. in the students’ own experiences. Students learn it as a paradigmatic equation to put figures into. I asked the younger students to think about connections between chemistry and their own experiences in an effort to ascertain their own ideas about the use of narratives in chemistry. contributed actively to the learning process. and connecting this in turn with how chemistry as a subject is actually framed. all carried out during their final year of upper secondary school. as is also discussed by Goodson (1992) and Goodson and Sikes (2001). When she and her students realized the giant quantities of gas involved it had been “an enormous experience. A later study was undertaken once I realized that many of the narratives I found resulted from interviewing adults who had longer and more established experiences. Britta stated that the gas laws had a function and a context as in the chocolate bar project. The most interesting discovery was that the students contributed to this process with their own narratives from their individual experiences.” Teachers’ narratives in themselves constituted the meaning-making tools I was primarily searching for.

Oscar was very specific about how a subject should be taught. He wanted theory to be embedded in a context. chemistry bore so much more meaning than at face value and she felt it was that meaning which made it fun to teach chemistry. and interesting and exciting. occupational safety. Oscar wanted the teacher to provide a general overview of an area before going into specific details. Gustaf had encountered welding. for example a narrative. it would become meaningless. As well.” Kristian related narratives from his work particularly making chemistry meaningful by offering explanations. His job involved a situation where theoretical electro-chemistry became alive. In addition to electro-chemistry. using protective gases. for example MIG or TIG. He felt that if the subject was approached in a different way. She wanted to give them an overall picture making them see that. By telling me about these he made me regard the chemistry I teach in a new light. underlining that she wanted her students to understand the context. Diana expressed her hopes for meaning-making. Britta was sure that the chocolate narrative had made a difference to their learning. when teaching science studies. Fanny used narratives about the life cycles of the elements and examples from a chemistry exhibition for raising cultural and philosophical questions in class. Fanny was engaged with the issues of peace and the abandonment of nuclear weapons. Diana wanted integrated textbooks in science subjects since she saw intimate connections between biology and chemistry and she wanted to elaborate on those in her teaching. The periodic table is no longer an abstract generalisation – it is inhabited by individual and usable metals. She wanted chemistry to be meaningful to all. and was concerned about how to share the limited resources of the earth. and health issues were involved in Kristian’s stories. you can absorb it. making it more vivid and meaningful. and this made chemistry meaningful for him. it was “fun. environmental aspects. He drew a comparison with the solution of equations: “If the teacher offers good examples. the interest is aroused. Her teaching was permeated with these objectives. she wanted them to be able to read articles in journals and understand the content. She wanted to integrate science subjects as she felt that separating them disintegrated knowledge.” Also.404 AGNETA BOSTRÖM chocolate bar apparently made the law meaningful to students. He was . Diana implemented this aspiration. it was not just a problem for solving in textbooks. To her.

These are unique and cannot totally be replicated. When they are connected in a narrative a new level of relational significance or discursivity. Oscar was upset about imaginary numbers that were taught without a context. Narrative cognition considers the temporal context and the complexity of the interactions that create each situation.” Isolated. “The king died. The issue is understanding. a story was almost like a fairy-tale. is created.NARRATIVES AS TOOLS IN DESIGNING CURRICULUM 405 arguing for a meaningful way of teaching. writes Polkinghorne (1995). more fun and. The Narrative as a Didactic Design Tool Bruner (1986) and Polkinghorne (1988) describe two ways to organize knowledge – the paradigmatic (scientific and structured) and the narrative. . Bruner writes that our thinking follows two different paths. Illustrating this model Polkinghorne uses two simple statements. Narrative cognition is aimed at the understanding of human action. narrative cognition focuses on what is special in each action. enabling one to sustain a good level of concentration for a longer time. Human action is the result of interaction between earlier learning and experiences. Narratives helped in learning chemistry by making the subject easier to grasp. In this way the narratives creates the context that makes it possible to understand the crying. as Nancy stated. each one offering a method to organize events in order to construct reality. the present situation and the aims and purposes a person maintains. Separating it from paradigmatic cognition. Narrative cognition thus becomes something else with the ability to classify and see structures – the backbones of paradigmatic thinking. aimed at what actions have in common. I have interpreted these statements as expressions of how narratives help to make chemistry more meaningful. Paradigmatic knowledge is saved in the form of words describing a concept while narrative knowledge is saved in narratives. Concerning teaching. The narrative knits events together and gives them context and meaning. In a narrative the crying of the prince becomes a reaction to the father’s death. we realize how the forms of learning are different – on one hand to learn the procedure that solves an equation. these statements describe two independent events. on the other hand to understand the significance of the equation and its solution. The prince cried. characterizing the meaning-making quality of the plot. to understand by designing context.

It is evident that Fanny’s personal thoughts are reflexed in her class. Her teaching is influenced by this concern and her desire to understand and explain the origin of the universe. She raised questions concerning how many millions of years it takes before a metal reverts to a mineral ore. The limestone that looked like a sandwich is today kept in the chemistry department where she works. and is used as an example when carbonate chemistry is on the agenda. how they are used. On seeing it.406 AGNETA BOSTRÖM The lives of chemistry teachers influence the chemistry taught in class. In her class. The teacher Anna tells about the winding path which led to her dream position as teacher. She also uses the narrative about the sandwich from everyday life in her classroom dialogue.” the origin of life. Since she was 12. she had a drawing board full of maps showing where minerals and metals originate. and how mushrooms were used by early peoples prior to going to war. She drew parallels to the physicists of our time. long before it was considered proper to discuss life cycles. Together with her students she visited the chemistry exhibition at the museum of technology. and finding Higg’s particle. I connect this to Polkinghorne’s thoughts (1995) about narrative cognition and its direction toward human action. her husband had left some of the material for her in the laundry. Teachers’ lived experience influences their teaching. how painting was been used in different cultures to invoke the gods. When removing limestone from the boiler in their house. the “Big Bang. These examples show how individual lived experience is interwoven with teaching and the subject that is offered to students in class. and the first RNA. as he knew that she could use it in her teaching. and where they go after use. Issues like life stories and how individuals are constituted are interesting research fields. Fanny wondered how different cultures used chemistry to invoke higher powers. She often become philosophical and even religious. This initiated discussions about cosmetics and why people want to make themselves beautiful. Teacher’s lives and life stories have been studied by Goodson (1992). In her story about an event in her home her capacity as a narrator is evident. struggling with the expansion of the universe. the only possible career for her was teaching. Fanny’s life is interwoven with her engagement in the issues of peace and the disarmament of nuclear weapons and she is a teacher who talks about higher powers. mentioning God. her first thought was that her teenage son had left a half-eaten sandwich – it was somewhat crumbly and floury. . Fanny’s interest in chemistry is connected with her concern about sharing the limited resources of the Earth. mysterious dark matter.

In my interpretation the discussion about the consequences of events is similar to the vision that science carries on cause and effect. explains that things happen because matter – the agent of the narrative – does what is it’s nature to do or in other words. . Narratives as Scientific Explanations Finally. for example a polluted river. A scientific explanation. even though it is not presented in the same way. and the purposes and aims of an individual I interpret as a description of the life story. or picked up some extra electrons. In these cases the explanation can be regarded as a narrative. It’s most important quality is that it contains a number of agents. describing dead tropical forests. only tells me that rain is common and therefore does not have to be explained further. A scientific explanation has a lot in common with a narrative. A story about a low pressure area taking with it damp air starts to resemble what we mean by an explanation. resulting from interaction between earlier learning and experiences. Martins. or the mechanisms of heredity. the life cycle of carbon. got rid of their surplus electrons. A redox process. In order to help the students to better understand the chain of events Eva transformed it into a sequential organized narrative about oxygen molecules in the air attacking the aluminum surface. it follows the laws of nature. regarded as a narrative. Kress. each one with the prerequisites that make it what it is. how infections are spread. These agents go through a series of events and these events have consequences depending on the nature of the agents. oxidation of aluminum.NARRATIVES AS TOOLS IN DESIGNING CURRICULUM 407 Human action. Eva uses narratives when she describes the atoms and their components. The narrative about carbon goes back hundreds of millions of years. and the impact of extreme pressure and temperatures. Connecting to this narrative. Thus it creates meaning in what otherwise would be arbitrary events. we might ask what it is that makes an explanation really explain something. The answer that it rains because it always rains a lot in April. the present situation. sedimentation of decomposed plants. If I ask why it rains and the answer is that water falls from heaven. A scientific explanation resembles a narrative. I only have learned what rain is. and McGillykuddy (1996). claims Ogborn. showing how the agents of the narrative. thereby transforming it into aluminum oxide. is described and explained.

Could models be regarded as suitable subjects for narratives? I think they can. since narratives not only tell how it is. claimed Bruner. 102). but also describe how it might be. expanding the discussion around these two types of cognition from his more youthful description of two mutually translatable mental states. “The paradigmatic mode is existential and declarative: there is an x of property y such that its orbit has the property z. Internationally the discussion concerns how curricula. Narratives allow us to be more open and flexible in teaching science because we do not have to desperately attempt to strive after the correct answer and actually describe the world as we know it is. meaning that the content of the subject that they offer to the students is dependent upon their own lives. Bruner (2002). The narrative one is normative and its mode subjunctive” (p. images of the possible in an imperfect world” (p. another is to contextualize by methods such as Large Context Problems.408 AGNETA BOSTRÖM Narratives as Tools for Designing the Subject The described narratives were used by the upper secondary teachers. and a third is to interweave historical . Chemistry teachers’ narratives are interwoven with their life stories. the “austere but well-defined world of the paradigmatic and the darkly challenging world of narrative” (p. to a more complex description. 102). They were connected to the content of the chemistry courses at the upper secondary level. Maybe this makes it possible to discuss the modeling made in science. He was sure that we can live with both worlds. asserting that it is when we lose sight of the two in tandem that we tend to narrow our own perspectives on life. Bruner (2002) summarized his work. they talk about a subjunctive world.” The content and the form of the subject are designed from the teacher’s individual knowledge and experience and are expressed in her or his classroom narratives. 101). believed that they create possibilities by telling how something could be. The suggested changes focus on increasing the ratio of meaning-making events in education by trying different ways to make the content more concrete. The gift of such playwrights as Agamemnon. One way is to connect to students’ lives by the use of everyday connections. chemical and other scientific educational efforts should change and develop in order to attract students. Narratives open up more possibilities. Teachers’ experiences are interwoven in a process that can be defined as “Designing the Subject. and Iphigenia is that “they have given us a treasury of metaphor about tragic plights. Clytemnestra. Teachers’ classroom narratives constitute an integrated part of the subject that the students are offered. being strongly in favour of narratives.

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se .stockholm.NARRATIVES AS TOOLS IN DESIGNING CURRICULUM 413 Wolpert.bostrom@utbildning. London. L. UK: Faber and Faber.se agneta. The unnatural nature of science. (1992). Author’s Address: Åsö Vuxengymnasium Box 17804 SE-11894 Stockholm SWEDEN EMAIL: agneta-bostrom@comhem.