Investigations on Homework Assignments in Chemistry Education

Prof. Dr. Elke Sumfleth - Research Interests


Investigations on Homework Assignments in Chemistry Education


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Evaluation of teachers' homework practice in chemistry education

Under certain conditions homework has positive effects on students' cognitive achievement in major subjects, like mathematics and English, with a high number of lessons per week. Whereas research mainly focuses on these subjects, studies on the effects of homework in minor subjects have not been conducted so far. Especially in these subjects, additional learning opportunities can be created by homework. In chemistry education for example, different types of homework like experimental tasks or laboratory reports can be introduced apart from regular homework practice. The aim of this project was to collect and analyse data on current homework practice in German chemistry classes.

Ideal homework mostly referring to the major subjects is described in literature by certain criteria:

  • near transfer (Becker & Kohler 2002)
  • quality is better than quantity (Trautwein, Köller & Baumert 2001)
  • control of solution (Lipowsky et al. 2004)
  • experimental homework (Nicolai 2005)
  • cooperation in homework (Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler 2005)
  • equally spread study time (Haag & Mischo 2001)

Firstly, a video analysis of videotaped chemistry lessons was conducted with regard to homework. The coding manual includes the distinction between assignment and control of homework, the medial presentation of tasks, the integration into the process of lessons, the level of task demands and the kind of tasks. The goal was to develop hypotheses about current homework practice.

Then, the current homework practice was investigated. Therefore, chemistry teachers in German secondary schools were asked about their homework practice with regard to 10th-grade classes. A homework related questionnaire concerning criteria of ideal homework design was developed. The data collection took place in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Schleswig-Holstein - both with PISA peak values - and North Rhine-Westphalia.

The video-analysis shows that in 28 of 64 lessons videotaped in grammar schools, chemistry homework is corrected or given. In two of these lessons control and assignment of homework can be observed, while the remaining videos show only assignment of homework. The assignment only appears in the last third of the lessons, but there are different forms of assigning homework. In most cases, there is planned homework (43%) or homework, e.g. when the teacher provides the remainder of the lesson as task (43%). There are also spontaneously given tasks (14%), e.g. when teachers react to individual needs during the lesson. All of these tasks are in well-integrated into the process of the lessons and most of them are dictated (53%). Some are distributed on a paper (20%) and further 20% originate from the text book. Only seven percent of the tasks are fixed on the black board.

The main results of the questionnaire show that two thirds of all teachers give homework in every lesson or in every second lesson with an estimated time of task of about 10-15 minutes. In addition, it becomes obvious that they control the homework assigned. So, contrary to prior expectations, homework plays an important role in chemistry lessons.

Funded by DFG        


Further information:

Corinna Kieren

Project Homework


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On the effect of homework assignment properties on homework motivation in chemistry education

The almost proverbial battle over homework still seems a prominent battle fought by students, parents and teachers (Cooper, 2007). Students tend not to do their homework, probably considering homework a waste of time. Getting students to make an effort doing their homework may contribute to winning the homework battle in parts. As there is minor evidence for a correlation between time spent on assignments and achievement, homework effort apparently is a crucial factor for achievement (Schnyder, Niggli, Cathomas, Trautwein, & Lüdtke, 2006). Hence, there is reason to assume that aspects of homework motivation such as value and expectancy beliefs might have a positive effect on homework effort (Trautwein & Köller, 2003).

The indicated influence of motivation on behaviour derives from Pintrich and de Groot's study (1990) on the impact of value and expectancy beliefs on students' resource management. The concept of motivation is in agreement with Eccles and Wigfield's notions of value beliefs and expectancy beliefs (Eccles & Wigfield, 1995; Wigfield & Eccles, 2000; Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). Motivation is pointed out to be affected by the learning environment e.g. homework quality, student characteristics and parents. While the latter seems negligible for elder students and students' characteristics can be assumed unchangeable, the learning environment and thus the perceived homework quality seem amendable.

The study aims at investigating to what extent homework assignments in chemistry education embedded into different learning environments may positively influence students' motivation with regard to value beliefs and expectancy beliefs. Presumably, assignments perceived as being difficult have a negative effect on expectancy beliefs and probably value beliefs are influenced by the arrangement of the learning environments.

Therefore, a set of 144 homework assignments has been created with the respective tasks being embedded into assignments. The assignments created vary in (1) context (non-domain specific, domain specific), (2) the treatment of experiment (paper-pencil, hands-on), and (3) difficulty (low, medium, high). The resulting assignments have been rated by a sample of 612 eleventh grade students. Every student has evaluated a set of nine assignments differing in context, treatment of experiments and difficulty level. Therefore, the questionnaires developed and successfully used by Trautwein et al. (2006, 2007) were adapted and adopted. To score the respective items, a 4-point Likert-type scale is used ranging from total agreement to total disagreement.

(1) The contexts are generated by stories created for this purpose narrated formulaically as follows: a protagonist slips into a situation demanding an experiment to be carried out in order to solve a problem. In any case, the protagonists of the stories are able to solve the problems suggesting the tasks solvable with respect to expectancy beliefs.

(2) The hands-on-experiment assignments consist of three tasks, the first of which is to carry out an experiment as well as answering a question concerning the respective observation e.g. measuring the pH-value. The next task is to analyze the observation e.g. calculating the concentration of hydronium ions and finally the results are to be evaluated taking the problem to be solved into account. Accordingly, the paper-pencil variation contains a representation of probable observations and as a result, differs from the hands-on-experiment variation in that the represented observation is to be interpreted without carrying out an experiment beforehand. In both cases, the respective observations have to be interpreted and the results are to be evaluated taking the problem to be solved into account.

(3) The level difficulty is determined by the complexity of the tasks. It is expected that difficult assignments have a negative effect on expectancy beliefs and assignments perceived as too easy might be considered less worth to be solved. Thus, students should most probably prefer the assignments of medium difficulty.

Although statistical significance has not been calculated, yet, there is hint of assumption that context is a factor having an effect on motivation. According to the calculated estimated means, the most positively rated context regarding expectancy beliefs is the party context (1.74), while the most positively rated context regarding value beliefs is sports (2.29). However, the most negatively rated context regarding expectancy beliefs (1.90) as well as value beliefs (2.35) is the domain-specific context with a laboratory worker being the protagonist. However, whenever a calculation has to be performed, the assignments are rated rather negatively, regardless of the manipulated features.

Additionally, the calculations of estimated means show that level of difficulty has rather a small effect on expectancy and value beliefs. The same seems to be true for treatment of experiments.

The results of the reported study encourage further studies on the effect a variation of value beliefs and expectancy beliefs might have on students' achievement. Consequently, the next step is to experimentally investigate whether a manipulation of the homework assignment context does have an effect on homework motivation, and thus on homework effort and achievement. Hence, an intervention study is conducted wherein tenth grade students are provided with the previously created and rated homework in the course of a sequence of eight teaching units.

On the whole, the subsequent study shall prove whether context is a factor that affects motivation as well as achievement and allow a more detailed view on assignment features that may have an influence on value beliefs and expectancy beliefs. Light is to be shed on the interdependencies of the qualities of assignments with homework motivation and the effects of perceived homework quality on the learning progress are to be validated. In due course, features relevant for motivation might be identified and described, in case the respective homework assignments show an effect on achievement.

Funded by DFG           


Further information:

Katja Stief

Homework in the Chemistry classroom (nwu-Homepage)