Who Can Teach Chemistry?

With a spiral curriculum, high school school science education becomes integrated. As a result, teaching science in high schools may no longer require subject expertise. The question is whether a biology major can teach chemistry. Can a chemistry major in college teach biology in high school? Can a physics major teach chemistry in high school? The answer is no.

A biology major in college perhaps is required to take General Chemistry, but such exposure is usually inadequate. The more advanced courses in the different branches of chemistry allows for a student to appreciate and delve deeper into concepts learned in introductory courses. Without a deeper experience in chemistry, a teacher cannot have the flexibility to tailor instruction to the needs, interests and background of the students. A limited exposure to chemistry means a limited number of options to teach its concepts. Unfortunately, a limited exposure often means a limited understanding of chemistry as well.

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A recent study in the United Kingdom reveals that science majors in general are not really qualified to teach chemistry. A major in chemistry is required to master even the basic concepts in chemistry that are to be taught in high school:


Aspects of chemistry content knowledge held by 265 UK-based pre-service teachers (PSTs) were probed using 28 diagnostic questions in five chemistry concept areas, Particle theory and changes of state, Mass conservation (taught to 11–14-year-olds), and Chemical bonding, Mole calculations and Combustion reactions (taught to 14–16-year-olds). Data were collected over six years from academically able science graduates starting a full-time, university-based teacher education programme of one academic year duration. PSTs in three sub-cohorts (‘chemists', ‘physicists' and ‘biologists' on the basis of their undergraduate degrees) demonstrated similar levels of content knowledge (CK) for Particle theory and changes of state and Mass conservation. Biologists demonstrated statistically significantly weaker understanding than chemists and physicists in Chemical bonding, Mole calculations and Combustion reactions. Forty-four ‘triads' each comprising one chemist, physicist and biologist, matched by academic and personal backgrounds, showed that chemists outperformed biologists and physicists in Chemical bonding and Combustion reactions. The findings suggest that non-chemists' CK is insufficient for teaching these chemistry concepts in high schools, despite their possession of ‘good' Bachelor of Science degrees. These data have implications for science teacher education, including how best to prepare science graduates from diverse backgrounds for teaching specialist science subjects to 11–16-year-olds.
So, perhaps, it is time to rethink how science is taught in high school. We should stop faking it.


  1. As a reaction to the spiral approach, some private schools are responding to the challenge by only allowing the teachers who majored on a certain discipline to teach their expertise on a certain quarter. Recall that the school year is divided into "quarters" in the Philippines. In the K to 12 Curriculum, the Sciences are divided into four equal parts: earth sciences, physics, biology and chemistry. In secondary schools, the educator will teach a certain grade level on an assigned quarter in one school year.

    Example, A chem teacher will teach basic Chem in Grade 7 for the first Quarter, then Grade 8 on the 2nd Quarter, then Grade 9 on the third quarter and then Grade 10 on the fourth quarter. This is the emerging practice I see in many private schools for SY 2013-2014... meaning, these institutions prefer their teachers to teach their expertise (well, at least in secondary institutions I am familiar with.)

    As a result, Education management plays a major role in allowing "experts" in maintaining the facilitation of authentic learning in the discipline.

  2. Are the quarters staggered then? Does a chemistry teacher then teach 1st year students during the first quarter, then 2nd year students in the second quarter?
    How does a relationship between a teacher and student grow in a quarter's time?

  3. "Are the quarters staggered then? Does a chemistry teacher then teach 1st year students during the first quarter, then 2nd year students in the second quarter?"

    You can say that a quarter is staggered. Basically, each level from grades 7 to 10 has an equivalent difficulty. You can say Grade 7 has basic Chem, Grade 8 has intermediate Chem, Grade 9 has semi-advance Chem and Grade 10 has advance Chem. Higher level Chem can be found in Senior High School and in college.

    Please refer to the DepEd Curriculum on the actual content on how they divided the Scientific disciplines:

    GRADE 7
    1st Quarter - Chemistry
    2nd Quarter - Physics
    3rd Quarter - Biology
    4th Quarter - Earth Science

    GRADE 8
    1st Quarter - Physics
    2nd Quarter - Earth Sciences
    3rd Quarter - Chemistry
    4th Quarter - Biology

    GRADE 9
    1st Quarter - Biology
    2nd Quarter - Chemistry
    3rd Quarter - Earth Sciences
    4th Quarter - Physics

    GRADE 10
    1st Quarter - Earth Sciences
    2nd Quarter - Physics
    3rd Quarter - Biology
    4th Quarter - Chemistry

    Source: http://www.deped.gov.ph/index.php/resources/curriculum-guides/k-to-10-subjects https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B8xBbYUc2V91NUpzYUtVZmdFVjZTeS1BSzlHbDFlVHpWTno4/edit?pli=1

    "How does a relationship between a teacher and student grow in a quarter's time?"

    This is something that is still being tested. As far as the private institutions that I am aware of, they had no problem in regards of student-teacher relationships... let's see what will happen further down the road. In totality, they are all still in the experimental stage.


    Take note, I am only referring to the emerging practice of a select group of private high schools. I don't know about the practice in most private high schools and in public schools.

  4. Sorry, the matrix I made is problematic *I'm a bit too sleepy now.*

    Anyway, please refer to this image for the matrix for junior high school



    Matter - Chemistry
    Force, Motion,& Energy - Physics
    Living Things and Their Environment - Biology
    Earth & Space - Earth Sciences

  5. Yes, I have seen this before. I have commented likewise on the schedule and flow of the topics. It sucks - just to make that clear.


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