Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Chemistry Education

Modelling of problem-solving competencies in chemistry

A problem is characterized by an unwanted initial condition, a desired final state and a barrier, which inhibits the transfer from the initial condition to the goal (Dörner 1987). So whether a situation really is a problem or only a task strongly depends on the appropriate previous knowledge and skills of the person. To solve a problem successfully, suitable operators have to be found, which lead to the desired final state. Problem-solving processes themselves include the following actions: (1) understanding the problem, (2) characterizing the problem, (3) representing the problem, (4) solving the problem, (5) reflecting on the solution and (6) communicating the solution (OECD 2004, p. 27). If tasks analyzing problem-solving competencies have to be designed, these steps of the problem-solving process have to be considered. For this, analytical and dynamic problem-solving have to be distinguished. In the case of analytical problem-solving all relevant information is given or can be reasoned. This type is often ascertained using common paper-and-pencil-methods. For dynamic problem-solving the operators leading to the goal are not obvious but arise during the interaction with the problem (Klieme, Funke, Leutner et. al 2001). That is why computer-based tests are used by analyzing dynamic problem-solving competencies. An important advantage of this method is that the characteristic of the progress of the problem-solving process, such as kind, duration, frequency and sequence of the interventions in the system for example, can be registered.

Following the definition of Weinert, which is also the basis of the national educational standards, competency means available or learnable cognitive abilities or skills as well as the willingness of a person to solve certain problems and to apply the solution successfully and in a responsible way (Weinert 2001, p. 27). Hence, competencies can be described as context-sensitive, cognitive dispositions of accomplishments that relate to specific demands and situations. Respective scopes and professional and didactic aspects have to be considered when developing appropriate competency models. Formulated and empirically ensured competency models only exist for single fields and age groups (Klieme & Leutner 2006, Klieme, Avenarius & Blum et. al 2003, Schecker & Parchmann 2006). Especially models describing levels are often gained post hoc so far, up to now theoretical derivatives are rare (Schecker & Parchmann 2006).

The aim of the project is the development and empirical evaluation of a competency model for dynamic problem-solving in chemistry. This model should focus on the problem type “system analysis and design” and should represent the classical steps of the problem-solving process. Furthermore it should describe different levels of demand. The construction of the problems is based on the developed competency model and comprises themes of organic chemistry (structure of organic molecules, isomers, reactions …). The problems are designed in that way, that it is possible to handle the task at each level. Because dynamic problem-solving is examined, a computer-based test is used.


Dörner, D. (1987). Problemlösen als Informationsverarbeitung. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

Klieme, E., Funke, J., Leutner, D., Reimann, P. & Wirth, J. (2001). Problemlösen als fächerübergreifende Kompetenz. Zeitschrift für Pädagogik 47 (pp. 179-200).

Klieme, E., Avenarius, H., Blum, W., Döbrich, P., Gruber, H., Prenzel, M., Reiss, K., Riquarts, K., Rost, J., Tenorth, H.-E. & Vollmer, H. J. (2003). Expertise zur Entwicklung nationaler Bildungsstandards. Berlin: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung.

Klieme, E. & Leutner, D. (2006). Kompetenzmodelle zur Erfassung individueller Lernergebnisse und zur Bilanzierung von Bildungsprozessen. Überarbeitete Fassung des Antrags an die DFG auf Einrichtung eines Schwerpunktprogramms.

Schecker, H. & Parchmann, I. (2006). Modellierung naturwissenschaftlicher Kompetenz. Zeitschrift für Didaktik der Naturwissenschaften 12 (pp. 45-66).

OECD (2004). Problem solving for tomorrow’s world – First measures of cross-curricular skills from PISA 2003. Paris: OECD Publications.

Weinert, F. E. (2001). Vergleichende Leistungsmessung in Schulen – eine umstrittene Selbstverständlichkeit. In F. E. Weinert (Hrsg.), Leistungsmessung in Schulen (pp. 17-31).