Developing students’ chemical literacy through the integration of dilemma stories into a steam project on petroleum topic


Yuli Rahmawati1* , Erdawati Erdawati1 , Achmad Ridwan1 ,
Novita Veronica1 , Deni Hadiana2

1Universitas Negeri Jakarta (Indonesia)

2Badan Riset dan Inovasi Nasional (Indonesia)

Received May 2023

Accepted October 2023


The aim of this study was to develop students’ chemical literacy by integrating dilemma stories into a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) project on petroleum. Chemical literacy can help students face future challenges by applying what they learn about chemistry subjects at school to solve problems in their daily lives. A qualitative research method was employed that included interviews, observations, reflective journals, chemical literacy tests, and student activity sheets, as data collection tools. Thirty six secondary school students participated in the research using a project-based approach consisting of five steps: value reflection, problem-solving, project monitoring and evaluation, project development, and transformation. This study used four chemical literacy components according to Shwartz, Ben-Zvi and Hofstein (2006) namely scientific and chemical content knowledge, characteristics of chemistry, chemistry in context, higher-order learning skills, and affective aspect. STEAM integrated with dilemmas stories provides opportunities for students to develop chemical literacy through value reflection, problem solving, and STEAM project. This study uses a dilemma story to understand chemistry concepts whereby students can develop a project by integrating chemistry and STEAM principles. The STEAM Project involved making alternative fuel to find a solution to a problem presented in the dilemma story. The researchers were challenged by the need to find a suitable chemistry-based dilemma story to integrate with a STEAM project while also empowering students and managing time resources.


Keywords – Chemistry learning, Dilemma stories, STEAM project, Chemical literacy, Petroleoum.

To cite this article:

Rahmawati, Y., Erdawati, E., Ridwan, A., Veronica, N., & Hadiana, D. (2024). Developing students’ chemical literacy through the integration of dilemma stories into a steam project on petroleum topic. Journal of Technology and Science Education, 14(2), 376-392.



    1. 1. Introduction

Low literacy levels in education affect the quality of school graduates. The education process in Indonesia is still oriented towards producing graduates who are focused on the content knowledge aspect of learning. The demands of academic achievement are either indicator of good or not learning is in the classroom, thus making teachers focused solely on delivering material and ignoring the demands to develop a student’s literacy that will enable them to compete in a global economy and other fields. Papen (2005) states that low literacy rates, an issue in many countries, affect the quality of human resources and an employee’s involvement in society. This information supports the need to improve the quality of education in developing student literacy levels, especially scientific literacy.

Scientific literacy is considered an important factor in helping students make effective knowledge-based decisions and to be able to apply the concepts they learn to solve existing problems (National Research Council, 2012). Comprehensive survey tools for assessing scientific literacy internationally are Trends in Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). TIMSS is a student mathematics and science attainment study run by the Achievement Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). The results of the IEA’s 2011 survey of science at the secondary education level indicated that Indonesia was ranked 45th out of 48 countries (IEA, 2012). Meanwhile, based on the 2018 PISA survey, Indonesia ranked 67th out of the 81 countries tested in scientific literacy (OECD, 2023).

Chemistry is the branch of science that focuses on the nature and interaction of the matter of a substance (Gilbert & Tragust, 2009). Chemistry learning involves three representations: macroscopic, microscopic, and symbolic and is challenging for students (Chandrasegaran, Treagust & Mocerino, 2008). These three representations help educators to develop student competencies in chemistry and their understanding of concepts by presenting chemistry as interrelated.

Chemistry is important for students to learn, as many phenomena in life are related to chemistry (Cigdemoglu, Arslan & Cam, 2017; Sirhan, 2007). According to Shwartz et al. (2006) chemical literacy is the ability of students to know and apply their knowledge of the four components of chemical literacy; scientific and chemical content knowledge, chemistry in context, high-order learning skills, and an affective aspect. Research indicates that low chemical literacy in students and education held has not been able to fully build chemical literacy (Prastiwi & Laksono, 2018).

Efforts to improve students’ chemical literacy skills, focus on contextual and student-centered learning activities. Contextual learning is a learning strategy that emphasizes student engagement overall by connecting concepts learned with real life, thus encouraging students to apply them in daily life (Dewey, 1985). The application of this contextual learning activity is very appropriately applied in chemistry learning to develop the chemical literacy of students.

Contextual learning can be used to improve students’ chemical literacy by integrating dilemma stories into STEAM projects, thereby encouraging students to apply chemistry concepts to everyday life. Dilemma stories raise complex problems that trigger an emotional response whereby teachers can educate students to think critically, cooperate, accept or negotiate ideas, and solve problems (Rahmawati, Ramadhani, & Afrizal, 2020).

The dilemma stories approach was first introduced in science learning by Taylor to improve the teaching of science that associates social issues with content (Taylor, Taylor & Chow, 2013). The approach develops collaborative problem-solving skills, encourages evidence-based decisions and critical thinking, skills consistent with the development of scientific literacy (Settlemaier, Taylor & Hill, 2010). Dilemma stories educate students to think critically, work together, accept, negotiate ideas, and solve problems about dilemmas faced in their daily lives (Rahmawati, Nurbaity & Marheni, 2014). The STEAM approach is then used to create projects aimed at solving the social issues presented in the dilemma story.

The STEAM approach is a further development of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), first introduced in the United States to increase the number of students studying in STEM fields (Gonzalez & Kuenzi, 2012). Learning with the STEAM approach contextualizes learning by inviting students to understand the phenomena that occur around them (Yakman & Lee, 2012). Learning with the STEAM approach is a breakthrough for education in Indonesia in that it seeks to develop teachers who can teach students critical thinking and develop techniques or designs to solve problems in the world based on mathematics and science.

STEAM has proved to be effective developing high-level thinking skills, collaboration, argumentation, and creativity in chemistry students (Hadinugrahaningsih, Rahmawati & Ridwan, 2017). It has also been effective in developing analytical thinking skills and attitudes towards science learning (Chonkaew, Sukhummek & Faikhamta, 2016).

Studies have shown that the integration of dilemma stories with a STEAM approach can help develop students’ chemical literacy and contextual understanding. It involves collaborative interaction in working groups while creating projects to solve everyday problems Therefore, further analysis of the improvements of student chemical literacy by integrating dilemma stories with a STEAM project on chemistry learning is the focus of this project.

2. Methodology

The study employed a qualitative case study research design with data collected from interviews, observations, reflective journals, students’ daily activities sheet, and chemistry literacy test. The chemistry literacy test questions were based upon the chemistry literacy skills rubrics of Shwartz et al. (2006). The activities were carried out through the stages of value reflection, problem-solving, project development, project monitoring, and evaluation, and transformation. The students were required to develop an alternative fuel STEAM project as a solution to the petroleum dilemma presented in the story. The stages of the process are shown in Figure 1.

As represented in Figure 1, learning activities were carried out using the petroleum dilemma presented in the story. The use of dilemma stories in the learning process encouraged students to find solutions to the problems presented through the creation of a STEAM project. The integration of dilemma stories into a STEAM project encouraged students to actively engage and collaborate in a working group and, in doing so, increased their chemical literacy.

Figure 1. The Integration of the dilemma story and the STEAM project

2.1. The Participants

Thirty-six grade XI science stream students at a senior high school in Jakarta, Indonesia participated in the study. Of this number, 18 were males and 18 were females. Students’ cognitive abilities in chemistry preparation varied from high to low.

2.2. Data Analysis

Qualitative data analysis techniques are carried out through the stages of reduction, display data, and conclusion drawing/verification (Miles & Huberman, 1994). The data obtained during the study through interviews, observations, reflective journals, students’ daily activities sheets, STEAM project assessment, and petroleum open-ended test were reduced by selecting data was under the focus of chemical literacy. The data obtained during the study through interviews, observations, reflective journals, students’ daily activities sheets, STEAM project assessment, and petroleum open-ended test were reduced by selecting data was under the focus of chemical literacy. At the data display stage, the data that has been reduced is then presented in the form of a matrix or coding based on the chemical literacy indicators so that data verification can be carried out and conclusions can be drawn. The coding of data used in grouping was based on the components of chemical literacy, 1) general scientific ideas, 2) characteristics of chemistry, 3) chemistry in context, 4) higher-order learning skills and 5) affective aspect (Shwartz et al., 2006). The results of the data presented are then concluded by giving meaning to the results of the data. The conclusions were then verified by checking their consistency and compatibility with other data collected. Quality standards used in this study were trustworthiness and credibility through prolonged engagement, persistent observation, progressive subjectivity, and member checking (Miles & Huberman, 1994) to test the validity and trustworthiness of the data (Guba & Lincoln, 1989). Persistent observation is carried out to explore various phenomena by involving researchers directly in the learning process. In making continuous and in-depth observations, the researcher was assisted by two observers to analyze the learning process and the development of students’ chemical literacy. Progressive subjectivity is carried out to monitor research results with all notes obtained during the study based on the characteristics of students’ chemical literacy. Member checking is done to ensure the accuracy of the data obtained from students as data providers regarding the various research results. All data obtained, both in the form of hard paper copies and interview transcripts, were kept privately by the researcher for the privacy of participants and confidentiality.

3. Results and Discussion

3.1. The Integration of Dilemma Stories and a STEAM Project for Learning the Petroleum Topic

The focus of this study was to determine the effectiveness of integrating dilemma stories with STEAM projects for developing students’ chemical literacy. The total time required to integrated dilemmas stories in the STEAM project for 4 weeks in petroleum learning. At the preliminary stage, the researcher compiled an interview protocol for teacher and students to obtain information related to chemistry learning in school and students’ chemical literacy. At this stage, the researchers also compiled a lesson plan using integrating dilemma stories with STEAM projects, developed dilemmas stories about petroleum, and compiling research instruments such as observation sheets, reflective journals, students’ worksheets, the preparation and validation of open-ended petroleum test questions. The learning began by introducing petroleum materials and a petroleum dilemma story to the students. The story presented an issue aimed at encouraging students to think critically, collaborate, accept, negotiate ideas, and solve problems relate to everyday life. Students first reflected individually on the values in the dilemma story related to the petroleum topic. Students were then introduced to the petroleum material and to the concept of a STEAM project. Science was related to making the project. Technology required the students to use technology in making the project. Engineering meant the students had to know the working principles of alternative fuel. Art related to how the students designed the project and Mathematics related to the application of mathematical skills required for making the project (Rahmawati, Ridwan, Mardiah & Afrizal, 2020).

At the next stage, problem-solving, students were encouraged to solve problems by creating a STEAM project as a solution to the problem presented in the dilemma story. At the problem-solving stage, students were given the opportunity to individually think of solutions to the problems in the dilemma story, prior to a group discussion. As a result of the class discussion, students created an alternative fuel project, based on STEAM approach, as a solution to the dilemma presented in the story. The process is captured in Figure 2.

The students were required to create an alternative fuel in 6 teams of 6 students with each team providing a different solution to the dilemma. The students began the project by developing an alternative fuel design, they then determined what materials were required to build it and these details were recorded on an activity sheet. The process provided opportunities for students to develop critical and creative thinking skills and to increase their involvement in the learning (Rahmawati, Ridwan, Hadinugrahaningsih & Soeprijanto, 2019). Students and teachers discussed the development of a timeline as a guide for students to complete the project in a timely manner.

The monitoring and evaluation phase was then carried out. At this stage, the researchers were assisted by an observer who monitored the activities and the progress towards completion in relation to the academic calendar. Monitoring activities in the study were conducted during two meetings, then evaluation activities, including testing and presenting the project were conducted at the next meeting. The first monitoring of student project progress is shown in Figure 3. Monitoring was carried out on November 27, 2019.

Figure 2. Students solving the problem

Figure 3. First Monitoring of Student Project Progress

During the learning process, time was divided between delivering petroleum material, and project activities. The students’ started working on the project enthusiastically as demonstrated by the following observations.

“When delivering the petroleum material, some students looked less enthusiastic because of the last class, but it was different when they started working on the project, the students looked very enthusiastic.” (Observation sheet, November 27, 2019)

This view is supported by Salam, Mailok, Ubaidullah and Ahmad (2016) who stated that the application of project-based learning is effective in building student involvement in learning.

The student activities during testing the tool is shown in Figure 4. In testing the tools, students measured the success rate of the project that has been created to identify if there were deficiencies in the project so that improvements could be made. Test results showed that the tools made by students functioned correctly according to the purpose of making them to substitute petroleum and other fossil fuels commonly used in daily life. Figure 5 shows some of the solutions developed by the students.

A presentation of the project completed by each group was conducted aimed at testing students’ understanding of the project they created. Students presented their project to the other groups, as pictured in Figure 6.

Figure 4. Student Activities during Testing the tool

Figure 5. Alternative fuel STEAM Projects: (a) a simple electric stove, (b) a solar stove, (c) a miniature electric car, (d) an electric teapot, (e) a simple stove with biodiesel fuel, and (f) a stove with briquette from rice chaff