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Background: To make students more interested and engaged in science, new teaching approaches have been developed aiming at higher order thinking. Context-based learning approaches emanate from an idea that science content knowledge should be presented in a relevant context for students to improve their learning outcomes as well as making them more engaged in science. Previous research on context-based learning approaches has shown positive results; however, researchers and teachers need to explicitly consider which aspects of the contextual settings young students perceive as interesting and relevant to improve chemistry education.
Purpose: In this paper, the constructs of ‘interest’ and ‘relevance’ are explored to analyse which aspects of open-ended chemistry problems engage students.
Sample and Design: Both qualitative interview data and quantitative survey data are elaborated on in three subsequent studies with Swedish upper secondary chemistry students. Students’ statements when discussing contextualisation of chemistry problems are analysed in relation to analytical frameworks to explore students’ perceived interest and relevance.
Results: The results highlight the importance of connections to personal dimensions in chemistry to make students more engaged and interested in chemistry. The language of the context-based problems is also found essential as the students indicate trigger-words in the tasks influencing perceived interest and relevance. This in combination with students’ distinction between high interest as a positive feeling, and high relevance as something important or worthwhile, are important results from this study.
Conclusion: From the results, conclusions are drawn to help researchers and teachers develop chemistry problems aiming for higher order thinking, but at the same time are found interesting and relevant for the students.