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Not without Experiments – Brigitte Duvinage prepares prospective chemistry teachers for everyday school life

Brigitte Duvinage with students in the lab. Photo: Karla Fritze.
Photo :
Brigitte Duvinage with students in the lab. Photo: Karla Fritze.

The Chinese philosopher Confucius put it in a nutshell: “Tell me, and I will forget; show me, and I may remember; involve me, and I will understand.” Brigitte Duvinage’s research and teaching has been in line with this motto for many years. The apl. Professor of Chemistry Didactics combines theory and practice for everyday school life.

Brigitte Duvinage’s career aspirations were crystal clear in third grade: she wanted to become a teacher. She also wanted to be able to “give bad marks”. At first glance, this justification seems frightening and “does not fit into any statistics”. The didactics teacher obviously prioritized honesty and fairness very early on. She was already interested in natural sciences as a child, later studied biology and chemistry, and became a teacher before returning to the University in Potsdam.

When she works with students today, it is particularly important for her to make it easier for future teachers to find their way into practice. “You have to internalize the change from student to teacher,” Duvinage says. It is essential for them to recognize that teachers are responsible for the learners. At the same time, students should be well-prepared for their lessons so that they can safely experiment for and with the pupils. Accepting this new perspective is not easy at first, but in the course of their practical training and the completion of their practical semester, students are increasingly succeeding in designing responsible, safe experimental lessons.
“I attach great importance to teaching so that teachers and pupils are able to develop enthusiasm for it.” This is a real art, which should be initiated in the didactic training, expanded and deepened in the practical semester and later in school. The combination of theory-based and practice-oriented teaching and research is a top priority for Duvinage’s work. She therefore considers subject didactics a link between subject, education science and school practice. “Since we are mediators for the students, all components must be reflected in didactic teaching,” she says.

For Duvinage, lessons have to be close to everyday life

It is also important that the “chemistry” between teachers and students is right. Only then is it possible to design how they structure their chemistry lessons. In order to do so, students must be well-prepared for their subject and well-versed in educational theory. For Duvinage, designing lessons means teaching pupils what chemists have already discovered and allowing them to understand how scientists come to their conclusions. For the pupils, the respective chemical substances are unknown but are often found in everyday products, in the environment, and technology. Consequently, the design of lessons should be geared to everyday life and problem-oriented and use constructive methods.

“I try to show the students how important it is to develop thinking in science education.” Especially in chemistry lessons, pupils often come to class with great enjoyment but often remain at the empirical level. Some but not all of them are able to move to the theoretical level. Therefore, Duvinage demands that good teachers plan and design the lessons individually to lead as many students as possible to an eye-opening experience. In this context, experiments play an important role in learning and the path to knowledge.

Experimental work is, therefore, an absolute must in chemistry lessons. From this, the didactics expert derives research tasks related to lesson design and asks which innovations from science are reflected in chemistry lessons and which experiments make sense? Here didactics and technical discipline are also combined with new insights from education and psychology. The didactics expert develops theory-based models and conceptions. Doing experiments and using new media, i.e. working on the computer, play a role for her – always with keeping an eye on what’s useful for the pupils’ thinking. “We can digitize as much as we want, but our brain cannot be digitized; it has to develop,” says Duvinage.

The chemistry didactics expert has been working with Potsdam schools for decades

The chemistry professor wants to design everyday environmental and science-oriented chemistry lessons. She and her colleagues, for example, developed a special photometer that students can build themselves and use in the classroom for photometric examinations of everyday products. Duvinage goes beyond developing experiments. She develops theoretical concepts that cooperating teachers practice at Peter Joseph Lenné Comprehensive School, Voltaire Comprehensive School, and Einstein High School. Duvinage has been working with the Potsdam schools for decades. She develops and publishes teaching material together with the chemistry teachers and implements empirical research. The results are ultimately reflected in the training of future chemistry teachers.

Up to 1,000 students in grades 7-10 are involved in the practical studies at school. Duvinage integrates the results of this work in her courses. All of her lectures are experimental. A fixed part of her work process involves evaluating lessons with students. How well-prepared the students are when they start teaching is apparent in that after completing their studies they have written teaching material with risk assessments that are surely the envy of many teachers.

By the way, from the beginning of her scientific career Brigitte Duvinage prefers giving better marks.


Text: Dr. Barbara Eckardt
Translation: Susanne Voigt
Published online by: Alina Grünky
Contact to the online editorial office: onlineredaktionuni-potsdamde