Chemical Education Journal (CEJ), Vol. 5, No. 2 /Registration No. 5-20/Received July 3, 2001.

Chemistry beyond the Classroom:
Linking High School Chemistry with the Local Community

Ma. Assunta C. Cuyegkeng, Chona L. Maderal and Ann Joan H. Vallespin

Chemistry Department, Ateneo de Manila University
 Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Philippines 1108



In two separate co-curricular programs, the chemistry classes of a public science high school and a private girl’s high school sought to bring chemistry in action to their local communities.  The students planned the programs with the local community in mind.

In the public science high school, they chose projects with their residential communities.  These included fishmeal composting, plastics segregation and information awareness campaigns.  The pilot program was carried out during SY 1998-99, and it has continued in partnership with the local government and community. 

In the private girl’s high school, they chose to have an exhibit-workshop that would educate the community about paper and plastics. 

Although these projects have been met with success in their respective localities, they are considered the exception in the Philippines.  The teachers in the two case studies were crucial in the conceptualizing the projects, motivating the students, supervising the activities, and obtaining support from the school and the community.  The teachers’ perseverance and enthusiasm, as well as their good relationship with their classes, showed that more than good science could be achieved when chemistry goes beyond the classroom.



The general observation that students attend chemistry class simply to fulfill a requirement is probably not confined to the Philippines.  Fewer students appreciate the thinking and rigor that goes with the subject.  In the Philippine educational system, one of the most disturbing problems is the poor achievement of Filipino students in the areas of science and technology [1].  Educators agreed that one of the major causes of this problem is has to do with the method of facilitating the learning of mathematics and science concepts and processes inside the classroom [2].  Somehow, the current methods do not fully develop skills of both students and teachers. 

Earlier studies show that one problem of students, in general, is the failure to connect the chemistry principles they have learned in class with the problems in the real world [3].  They fail to appreciate chemistry concepts and draw connections between them, because chemistry is usually presented as a very theoretical, abstract body of knowledge.  This is especially true if the teacher is not properly trained, which is often the sad plight of Philippine secondary schools.  If this is coupled with the unsuitable course design, the result is a science that is bookish and often irrelevant.  The challenge, therefore, is to help students find meaning in the chemistry lessons and enhance their awareness of everyday phenomena, while developing critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Many different intervention schemes have been designed to help the draw these connections between chemistry in the classroom and real world concerns, as well as the connections between the different chemistry concepts being learned.  Books with thematic approaches have been introduced [4-6], in order to help the learner see the connection between concepts in chemistry, or link chemistry concepts to their past and present experiences [7]. 

The first research was conducted at a science high school (SHS) in Metro Manila in 1998-1999, drawing inspiration from the “Household Chemistry Project”.  This project tried to link the chemistry the students study at school and the life they live outside the school, creating a sense of community among the students and leading to many desirable outcomes [8].  In this project, friends and family members were involved either as laboratory assistants or recorders.  Students became more willing to take on rough tests because they expected to succeed and the attitude toward chemistry became more positive. 

The second research was conducted at a private girls’ school (PGS) in Metro Manila in 1999-2000, drawing inspiration from the first research.  This second research would be a challenge because of the many constraints associated with the type of school.

It is, perhaps, important to understand the student profiles of the two schools, because these defined the types of projects the students and their teacher chose to undertake. 

The Public Science High School Experience

The public science high school caters to the residents of a city.  The school is located in a foremost commercial and business district of the Philippines, with some of the most affluent residential areas.  Less known are the more marginalized areas, which the SHS students will address. 

Students come from the lower middle class or lower economic status.  The SHS students are generally predisposed to taking many science courses, and less constrained by school administration and parents to go beyond the school confines. 

The general objectives of the study were:

1. To connect the chemistry in the classroom with their daily lives

2. To show that chemistry can take place outside classrooms and laboratories

3. To effectively integrate the experiments with the experiences of students and communities

4. To develop environmental awareness among the students and members of their communities

The specific objective was to involve the students in the planning, design and development of programs, which would inform communities about chemistry and its relation to cleanliness, sanitation, waste management and organic gardening.


The students were in the regular third-year Chemistry classes as well as the fourth –year advanced Chemistry class.  Each one was asked to fill out a survey questionnaire that included questions on personal background as well as what the student thought was the environmental problem of his/her particular barangays.  The students were initially grouped according to the geographical area of their residence.  They first discussed the possible focus of their group, considering the profile of the community.  Together with their teacher, they did an ocular inspection of the area and talked to the residents and members of the community about their environmental concerns.  The students discussed their results and came up with the areas of study in Table 1.  Because of the number of students involved and the type of work they eventually wanted to do, they were broken down into smaller working groups.

The students were asked to plan a realistic activity about their area of study that would involve themselves and the community (Table 2).  After the initial planning, the students did their research.  The teacher also invited resource speakers to introduce certain topics to the students.  The groups then finalized their plans and implemented these activities on weekends with a few of the more senior students acting as facilitators.  The teacher was visited the sites (alternately) with the students.

Table 1.  Areas of Study of the Different Groups


Site of Study

Area of Study

No. of Subgroups


City Nursery

Organic Fertilizers



Public Market

Minimization of Market Waste



Racing Club Stable

Removal of Horse Manure in the area




Water Pollution



Elementary School (out of school youth)

Plastics Recycling


Table 2.  Programs of the Groups



Target group

Action Taken

Organic Fertilizers Campaign

Information campaign on advantages of organic fertilizers and composting

People involved in plant nurseries/ gardens

Interviews with nursery staff using organic fertilizers;

Research on composting and organic fertilizers;

Preparation of flyers; info. campaign

Fish Wastes-Not Movement

Composting and Conversion of fish wastes to fish meal

Public Market

Research on composting and preparation of fishmeal;

Coordination with barangays leaders;

Collection of fish waste;

Preparation of fishmeal;

Analysis (by teacher)

Compost Kids at Work

Composting and uses of horse manure

Residents near Stable

Research on composting and uses of horse manure;

Interviews with stable owners on sale and transport of horse manure

Save the Water Movement

Information campaign

Residents of Zone 1 near Railway

Research on properties of water and maintenance of water quality;

Special lecture on water and its properties;

Interviews with residents

Plastics Recycling Society

Information campaign

Youth groups, out-of-school youth

Research on plastics and polymers;

Special lecture on polymers;

Preparation of flyers on recycling;

Involvement of youth through youth club

The students were asked to answer questionnaires that would assess their learning in skills, knowledge and values.

Discussion of Results

The activities introduced by the students to the community through youth clubs and the like, gave positive results both on the part of the students and community members involved in the projects.  Chemistry principles taught in an ordinary classroom were better understood and appreciated by high school students through follow-up activities outside the school.  They found chemistry to be enjoyable when they themselves were involved in the planning and designing of activities. 

The students thought that they were able to learn skills well (Figure 1).  They were able to connect concepts more easily, seeing that their daily environment provides learning experiences as a formal laboratory would.  Because of their literature research, they were also able to address issues with greater depth and became more effective in making their own communities aware of the environmental concerns.  They also became more committed to their role in “saving the environment” because they felt proud of their ability to use chemistry principles in addressing the community’s problems. 

The knowledge gained, both in the perception of the student what was actually learned, was reflected in very good performance (with test scores 80-100, Figure 2a and 2b).

The students also saw the values gained from the experience (Figure 3).  Cooperation was evident because they are tasked to solve environmental issues that involved the community.  Above all, the students became more committed and responsible citizens, more aware of their roles in building a free and clean community through chemistry.

The Private Girls’ High School Experience

The private girls’ high school caters largely to the residents of a city, with a few coming from neighboring cities and towns.  It is located in a relatively quiet region of Metro Manila, which houses some industries. 

Students come from the upper to lower middle class.  The PGS students take the regular high school curriculum, which is not as heavy in the science courses as SHS.  The teenage girls were more constrained to stay in the school premises for their project.

The study had the following objectives:

1. To stimulate student interest in chemistry;

2. To help students learn chemistry by relating its concepts to daily lives, environment and meaningful issues;

3. To engage the students in an active-learning process through literature research, creative output, and planning and implementation of a student-centered exhibit-workshop;

4. To develop skills in literature search, aesthetics, written and oral communication.


The students were in the regular third-year Chemistry classes.  Each one was asked to fill out a survey questionnaire that included questions on what the student thought was a need in the environmental plan of the school.  The students were grouped within their classes.  They worked on two main areas, namely plastics and paper.

The students were asked to plan a realistic activity about their area of study that would involve themselves and the school.  After the initial planning, the students did their library research and the teacher also invited resource speakers.  They submitted reports and creative output, such as scrapbooks and comic books.  The groups then finalized their plans and implemented these activities for a two-day student-centered exhibit-workshop, which they opened to the high school and visitors form the area, namely selected teachers and students from three schools within the vicinity.  The exhibit-workshop featured lectures, posters, activities on plastics and paper for the participants, and some of the girls’ creative output.  

The students were asked to answer questionnaires that would assess how they learned.

Discussion of Results

The activities introduced by the students to their school community improved their own learning and involved the participants of the exhibit-workshop.  The students felt that their knowledge and skills in the area of paper and plastics were improved, because they were very involved in each step of the activity (Figure 4).   Their values also show increased interest and motivation because the activities were more meaningful (application to the environment) and more enjoyable (hands-on, more challenging, worked with friends) as shown in Figure 5. 

The students were able to connect concepts more easily.  Because of their literature research, they were effective in making their fellow students participate in the process, giving the exhibit-workshops an overall impressive rating.  

The Teacher in a Student-Centered Learning Process

Involving students in chemistry –related projects in their communities is an excellent way of learning skills, concepts and values for contemporary society.  The active approach (as against passive lecture) makes the students more responsible for their learning, making them build their own constructs for what works in their society.

For pedagogical purposes of what we refer to as normal science, constructivism is a very useful model.  However, the constructs that a student makes will depend a lot on the experiences to which he / she is exposed.  Thus, if the teacher is serious about wanting to make the students learn (good) chemistry, the design of the curriculum is important.  In case these have little flexibility, the challenge is how to create an appropriate activity that will assist the students in the learning process. 

The activities described above were designed and implemented beyond the regular school requirements, i.e. the teacher also went through the usual requirements of chemistry lecture and laboratory experiments, with the activity as a supplemental project.  They were added in an effort to help the students learn, whether they are science-oriented or not.  Although the PGS project is not as unique as the SHS model, it also used an approach that student-driven and teacher-facilitated.  Thus, it took a lot of effort on the part of the teacher who also must act as facilitator and resource person in case the students reach a dead end. 

To begin with, both teachers could establish good rapport with their classes.  In both cases, the teachers were highly motivated with a desire to help their students learn chemistry well, and to even move them to like the subject.  In the public science high school, it was a challenge to have the students take up chemistry as a profession.  In the private girls’ high school, it was a challenge to have the students like chemistry enough to remember it and to want to undertake an extra activity for it.

It took a lot of effort from both teachers to facilitate and to walk the students through the process.  In the case of the SHS teacher, it meant giving up some weekends to supervise the students in their respective work areas, initiating contacts with the city government to recognize their efforts that they may get a little support in terms of security and logistics.  Both teachers also had to convince administration of the need and noteworthiness of an activity that went beyond the usual requirements and comfort zones of running a class.

In the process, I saw that the teachers themselves were learning more than what a regular teacher’s manual or an in-service training would give them.  They were learning with their students as more specialized information were uncovered.  They learned to sift through the information and advise the students on appropriate methods. 


The scope of each project is based largely on what the student profile would allow.  In each case, the project served its purpose of deepening the knowledge, skills and values gained by the students.  The general objectives were accomplished, connecting chemistry to the daily lives of the students, effectively integrating experimental activities with their experiences, and developing environmental awareness among the members of their respective communities.   

In particular, the students were able to plan, design and develop programs to inform their respective communities about chemistry and its applications.  For the SHS students, their residential communities were informed about chemistry’s relation to cleanliness, sanitation, waste management and organic gardening.  For the PGS students, their school communities and a few visitors from outside were exposed to interactive exhibits on paper, plastics, and the recycling process.

In doing so, the students integrated these values and attitudes, as shown by the exit surveys.  They also gained additional skills in the planning and implementation of projects, as well as a responsible outlook for their own communities.


1.      Ibe, Milagros, and Ogena, Ester, “Science Education in the Philippines: an Overview”, In Science Education in the Philippines: Challenges for Development, Ogena, E., Brawner, F., Eds.;  Science Education Institute: Quezon City, 1998, pp 7-28.

Bernardo, Allan B.I., “The Learning Process: the Neglected Phenomenon in Science and Mathematics Education Reform in the Philippines”, In Science Education in the Philippines: Challenges for Development, Ogena, E., Brawner, F., Eds.; Science Education Institute: Quezon City, 1998, pp.78-106.

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