2013. Vol.4, No.12A, 40-45
Published Online December 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2013.412A1006
Developing Students’ Critical Thinking Skills by Task-Based
Learning in Chemistry Experiment Teaching
Qing Zhou1*, Qiuyan Huang2, Hong Tian3
1Key Laboratory of Modern Teaching Technology, Ministry of Education of China and Shaanxi
Normal University, Xi’an, China
2School of Chemistry & Chemical Engineering, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi’an, China
3Lanzhou Petrochemical College of Vocational Technology, Lanzhou, China
Received August 27th, 2103; revised September 27th, 2013; accepted October 4th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Qing Zhou et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copyrights ©
2013 are reserved for SCIRP and the owner of the intellectual property Qing Zhou et al. All Copyright © 2013
are guarded by law and by SCIRP as a guardian.
Task-Based Learning (TBL) is a student-centered, teacher-guided and task-performed teaching approach.
This study was aimed to investigate the effects of task-based learning (TBL) in chemistry experiment
teaching on promoting high school students’ critical thinking skills in Xi’an, China. To achieve the aims,
a pre-test and post-test experimental design with an experimental group and a control group was em-
ployed. Students in the experimental group were taught with TBL, while students in the control group
were taught with lecturing teaching methods. Five chemical experiments were selected, and 119 students
aged at 17 - 19 voluntarily participated in the research which lasted one semester. The California Critical
Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) was used as a data collection tool. Results showed there was an obvious
significant difference (p < 0.05) in the dimension of analyticity in the experimental group after TBL,
while there were no significant differences in the total score, the evaluation and inference of CCTST. The
findings provide an effective way for chemistry teachers to improve students’ critical thinking analyticity
Keywords: Critical Thinking Skill; Task-Based Learning; Chemistry Experiment Teaching
It is generally accepted that critical thinking should be an
important dimension of science education (Bailin, 2002). Criti-
cal Thinking (CT) should be not only educational choice, but
rather an inseparable part of education. Since the world has
changed quickly, it demands that education should develop
students’ critical thinking at all levels rather than teaching ob-
solete knowledge. The Australian Curriculum Science (2012)
has one of its aims which develop students’ an understanding of
the nature of scientific inquiry and the ability to use scientific
inquiry methods. So many items focusing on the critical think-
ing are included, for example “they develop critical and crea-
tive thinking skills and challenge themselves to identity ques-
tions and draw evidence-based conclusions using scientific
methods.” (p. 3); “critical and creative thinking are integral to
activeties that require students to think broadly and deeply us-
ing skills, behaviors and dispositions such as reason, logic, re-
sourcefulness, imagination and innovation in all learning areas
at school and in their lives beyond school.” (p. 13); “In the sci-
ence learning area, critical and creative thinking are embedded
in the skills of posing questions, making predictions, speculat-
ing, solving problems through investigation, making evidence-
based decisions, and analyzing and evaluating evidence.” (p.
13). Besides, there are also other curriculum statement and
stands which focus on critical thinking from a wide range of
jurisdiction, including the Ministry of Education, Singapore
(2007); the National Academy of science, USA (1996); the
department for education, England (1999).
Definition of Critical Thinking
Although CT is an important cognitive skill that schools aim
to train up, there are differences of opinions existing in defining
it. CT is a rich concept which has been developing for 2500
years. The intellectual root of CT originated in the method of
questioning proposed by Socrates who established the impor-
tance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into
thinking before we accepted ideas as worthy of belief. Since
then, different people studied the concept in different views of
cognitive development, which led to the diversity of the con-
ceptions (e.g., Brell, 1990; McPeck, 1981; Norris, 1985; Rogers,
1990; Seigel, 1988; Siegel & Carey, 1989). The most widely
used definition made by Ennis (1991) is that “reasonable reflec-
tive thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do” (p. 6).
According to the definition, CT was an important component of
the process of problem solving. Ennis (1991) divided critical
thinking into critical thinking abilities and critical thinking dis-
position, but it was still lack of assessment criteria. The Ame-
Q. ZHOU ET AL.
rican Philosophical Association (APA) sponsored a two-year
Delphi research project which was included 46 persons active
in critical thinking research, education, and assessment, and
they conceptualized the critical thinking and constructed objec-
tively scored standardized instruments the California Critical
Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) and the California Critical Think-
ing Disposition Inventory (CCTDI). The panel’s conceptualiza-
tion of the critical thinking construct was summarized by Fa-
We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regu-
latory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, eva-
luation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential,
conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual con-
siderations upon which that judgment is based.
A good critical thinking includes both a skill dimension (Cri-
tical Thinking Skills, CTS) and a disposition dimension (Criti-
cal Thinking Disposition, CTD). CTS include 1) interpretation,
2) analysis, 3) evaluation, 4) inference, 5) explanation and 6)
self-regulation. Interpretation is to categorize the problem, to
define its characteristic, to decode and to clarify the meaning.
Analysis is to distinguish the relationship among things. Eva-
luation is to make judgments on the credibility of statements.
Inference is to reason and to make logical conclusions. Expla-
nation is to state results, to justify procedures and to present
arguments. Self-regulation is to reflect, to make self-assess-
ment on one’s cognitive activities and to correct the errors.
CTD contain 1) truth-seeking; 2) inquisitiveness; 3) ma- tur-
ity; 4) analyticity; 5) open-mindedness; 6) systematicity and 7)
self-confidence (Margaret & Colucciello, 1997). Truth-seeking
is to be eager for exploring the knowledge even when the
knowledge does not support one’s self-interests or one’s pre-
conceived viewpoints. Inquisitiveness is to be inquisitive to
obtain knowledge even when the knowledge is not used imme-
diately. Maturity is cautious to make, to suspect and to revise
decisions. Analyticity is to apply reasoning into solving prob-
lems and tend to expect the results. Open-mindedness is to be
tolerant of diverse views. Systematicity is to be organized or-
derly, focused and engaged in handling the problems. Self-
confidence is to believe in one’s own inference and tend to use
the skills to solve problems.
CT is the human nature, but it’s not natural for humans to
think well. Being a critical thinker refers to obtain the critical
thinking skills and the readiness, willingness and inclination to
apply those skills. CTS are essential to any educated individual,
and it’s particularly necessary that they could be used and de-
veloped by students. There is consensus about the importance
of CT, but differences of opinions exist in how CT should be
taught. Some (Brookfield, 1987) insisted that there was no
standard approach to facilitate critical thinking, while others
(Barrows, 1986) advocated the use of specific strategies. Che-
mistry, a subject where critical thinking is applied in various
ways, plays an important role in fostering students’ CT. So
there are many approaches to improve students’ critical think-
ing (e.g. Charen, 1970; Seymour, 1973; Zhou et al., 2010a;
Zhou, Guo, & Wang, 2010b; Zhou, Shen, & Tian, 2010c; Zhou
et al., 2012; Evren, Bati, & Yilmaz, 2012). For the literature
mentioned above, most of the researches have focused on the
influence that teaching methods had on critical thinking. For
example, in Zhou’s study (2010a, 2010b) the inquiry-based
chemical experiment was used to develop pre-service teachers’
critical thinking. The CCTST and CCTDI were used to assess
the pre-service teachers’ critical thinking skills and disposition.
The results indicated that the implementation of the chemical
inquiry experiments improved the analysis and evaluation in
CTS and the analyticity in CTD significantly (p < 0.05), but
other dimension of the two subscales did not show significant
difference. Besides, in Zhou’s study (2012) the WebQuest
teaching method was applied to improving the high school
students’ critical thinking. There were significant differences (p
< 0.05) between before and after WebQuest learning in the
CCTDI scores and the subscale scores of truth-seeking, inquisi-
tiveness, analyticity, systematicity and self-confidence. For the
CCTST, there were significant differences in the total score,
and the subscales scores of analysis and evaluation. The find-
ings indicated the WebQuest teaching in chemistry might be an
effective method to develop high school students’ critical think-
Task-Based Learning in Chemistry Experiment
Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is defined as the student-
centered and self-directed pedagogical approach (Barrows,
1996; Kek & Huijser, 2011). PBL requires that the learning is
done a small group which consists of 6 - 10 persons ideally.
Problems form the basis of the learning focus on and simulate
the students’ cognitive development. Task-based learning (TBL)
is also the learner-centered teaching methods. Student-centered
leaning is that the students must take responsibility for their
own learning, identify what they need to know, manage the
problem on which they are working and determine where they
will get that information, and the teacher is as the facilitators or
guides (Barrows, 1996). The previous studies had shown the
PBL was a powerful pedagogical approach to promote CT (e.g.
Joe & Elizabeth, 1999; Magnusseen, Ishida, & Itano, 2000;
Celia & Gordon, 2001; Cook & Moyle, 2002; Williams, 2002;
Yuan & Qian, 2003; Wang, Lu, & Ze, 2004; Choi, 2004; Ti-
wari, Lai, So, & Yeun, 2006; Wang, Tsai, Chiang, Lai, & Lin,
2008; Yuan, Williams, & Fan, 2008; Ozturk, Muslub, & Diclea,
2008; Kek & Huijser, 2011; Martyn, Terwijn, Kek, & Huijser,
in press; Choi, Lindquist, & Song, in press). For the CTD, PBL
promoted the senior nursing students’ truth-seeking and open-
mindedness (Tiwari et al., 2006; Ozturk et al., 2008). And PBL
influenced the students’ CTS (Williams, 2002; Martyn et al., in
press; Choi et al., in press). Since CT is an outcome of PBL
(Worrell & McGrath, 2007), we supposed that TBL also could
improve the students’ CT.
TBL was mainly applied in medical education (Harden,
Crosby, Davis, & Struthers, 2000; Ozan, Karademir, Gursel,
Tanskiran & Musal, 2005), language learning (Gass, Mackey,
& Feldman, 2011; Hashemi, Azizinezhad, & Darvishi, 2012)
and computer-aid learning (Whittington & Campbell, 1998; Lee
& Shin, 2012). But there were few about the TBL applied in
chemistry experiment teaching (Zhou et al., 2010c). In the
chemistry experiment teaching, TBL is more suitable than PBL,
because TBL makes it possible for small group learning to take
place without mobilizing tutors, while PBL needs the guide of
instructors, especially in China where a class has about 50 stu-
dents on average or even more, the teacher may feel exhausted
and tired when they are guiding the chemistry experiment. The
task is like the driving force that makes learning occurs proac-
tively. By working towards task realization, the current knowl-
edge and resource are used immediately by students, making
learning initiatively and exploring independently. This is can be
Open Access 41
Q. ZHOU ET AL.
explained by social constructivism. Social constructivism the-
ory emphasizes the critical importance of culture and the social
context for cognitive development. Knowledge is constructed
through collaboration—interactions among students and be-
tween students and teachers, connected by task in TBL (Atwa-
ter, 1996). The learning results are not only the tasks but also
the concepts and mechanisms underlying the tasks (Harden et
al., 2000). Moreover, the cooperation in students is utilized
fully and the team spirit is fostered through TBL. So TBL is a
good choice for teachers in the chemistry experiment teaching.
TBL has been applied in high school chemistry experiment
teaching and has been tested the effect of critical thinking dis-
position in Zhou’s research (2010c). The result showed there
were significant differences on the CCTDI total score and the
subscale score of self-confidence between the experimental
group and the control group in the posttest. There is the evi-
dence that critical thinking disposition correlates with critical
thinking skills (Facione & Facione, 1997). Since the TBL is an
effective method for developing students’ critical thinking dis-
position, the hypotheses of this study the students’ CT skills
can be developed and fostered by TBL. So the focus of this
paper still examines whether the TBL influences on the stu-
dents’ critical thinking skills in high school.
To achieve the aims, a pre-test and post-test experimental
design with an experimental group and a control group was
employed. Students in the experimental group were taught with
TBL, while students in the control group were taught with tra-
ditional teaching methods in the experiments. Five chemical
experiments were chosen as the main instructional materials
because they represented that the chemistry knowledge applied
in real life, which were “Reaction between sodium peroxide
and water”, “Esterification”, “Alum for water purification”,
“Preparation of silicic acid” and “Preparation of ferrous hy-
droxide”. The experiment lasted one semester. The California
Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) was used as the data
collecting tool. At the beginning of the semester, the CCTST
was conducted in the control group and the experimental group
to assess their CT skills level and examine whether there were
differences. At the end of the semester, the CCTST was also
implemented in the two groups to make a comparison with the
pre-test and test the hypotheses.
The selected sample in this study was 119 students whose
ages ranged from 17 to 19 years at grade 3 in YuJin Middle
School, Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China. There were 59 stu-
dents in the experimental group which were taught by TBL, and
60 students in the control group which were taught with the
lecturing teaching method.
In order to guarantee the results were objective and authentic,
several treatments were conducted. First of all, an introduction
about the concept of CT to all the participants was made before
the experiment to ensure that they were able to use it. Secondly,
before the experiment the students who had similar learning
level were selected in the two groups. Finally, all the partici-
pants were taught by the same teacher who used the same
teaching content to reduce the effect of the non-research vari-
ables (e.g. the teaching style, the teaching standard), and the
course goals were the same for both the experimental group and
the control group. The differences lay in the teaching method
that the teacher used. In the control group, the teacher gave a
lecture directly to the students about the chemistry experiment
which included the experiment principle, instruments and pro-
cedures and so on. The lecture is defined as of more or less
uninterrupted talk from the teacher. Lecture notes were pro-
vided for the students for each of the experiment. Then the
students did the experiments according to the procedures in the
In the experimental group, the teacher used the TBL to help
the students construct the knowledge. Take the topic “Reaction
between sodium peroxide and water” for example to illustrate
the TBL teaching.
Firstly, the teacher presented the task background and as-
signed the task. The products of the reaction between sodium
peroxide and water were sodium hydroxide and oxygen. After
the reaction phenolphthalein was dropped into the solution, it
showed red for some period of time, which was the normal
phenomenon because phenolphthalein became red in the so-
dium hydroxide solution. However, the eight to ten drops of
phenolphthalein was dropped into the solution, and it appeared
red. But when the tube was oscillated, the red color disappeared.
It seemed strange. So the task was inquiry on the fading reason
of the reaction between sodium peroxide and water.
Secondly, the students were divided into small groups with a
unit of six persons, based on their interests, ability and desire.
Secondly, according to the teaching target and content, each
student in a group was given different role to complete the task.
There were mainly six roles: 1) Planner, who organized the
group members, made a schedule and supervised the imple-
mentation; 2) Information collector, who assigned the collect-
ing materials task to the members and gathered the information
in chief, such as the physical properties, the chemical properties
and the use of sodium peroxide; 3) Data organizer, who ar-
ranged the information systematically; 4) Scheme designer,
who make the designing scheme exploring the fading phenom-
ena of the reaction between sodium peroxide and water; 5)
Experiment preparation, who prepared the experimental drugs
and equipments according to the scheme; 6) Presenter, who
displayed the experiment scheme based on the group member
Thirdly, after the division of labor, each group member de-
fined his /her role and task depended on the fact. A fixed group
leader was not set, and each member served as the leader by
Before the experiment, 5 minutes were given to each group
to present the reason analyses on the fading phenomena and the
corresponding experiment scheme.
And the teacher evaluated the scheme, discussed with the
classmates, and produced the optimum solution. Under the
teacher’s guidance and supervision, the students did the experi-
ment. After completing the experiment, the students communi-
cated with each other on the things they had gained in the proc-
ess. Besides, the teacher evaluated and summed up the knowl-
edge and skills. TBL required the teacher make the timely
evaluation to stimulate the students’ interests and motivation.
There were four methods which were the self-evaluation, in-
Q. ZHOU ET AL.
Open Access 43
tra-group evaluation, inter-evaluation among groups, and tea-
cher-evaluation. Self-evaluation could develop the students’ in-
dependent consciousness. Students learn to appreciate other
people and make judgment through intra-group evaluation and
inter-evaluation among groups. And teacher could point out the
problem existing in process.
The framework of CCTST is based on the APA Delphi con-
sensus conceptualization of critical thinking (1990) and devel-
oped by Facione (1994). It is a 34-item standardized multi-
ple-choice test and is aimed at college students and adults, but
also suitable for advanced and gifted high school students. The
skills of analysis, evaluation and inference, deductive reasoning
and inductive reasoning are specifically targeted by the CCTST.
The Inductive and deductive scales overlap with the analysis,
inference, and evaluation scales. Analysis, inference, and eva-
luation add up to the CCTST total score. Induction and deduc-
tion also add up to the CCTST total score. The deductive rea-
soning and inductive reasoning were integrated into the three
subscales of the analysis (A) (0 - 9), evaluation (E) (0 - 14) and
inference (Inf) (0 - 11) in the Chinese-version CCTST (2002),
which produces an yields an overall score (0 - 34) on critical
thinking skills, Pearson r = 0.63, p < 0.01, r/2 = (0.75 - 0.80), p
< 0.01, and shows a good reliability, and good construct valid-
The data were analyzed using the SPSS17.0 for windows
versions. Independent sample t-test analysis and paired sample
t-test were employed to compare CCTST scores before and
Results and Discussion
Two methods were employed to compare the differences in
the statistics. The first method was used the independent sample
t-test (see Table 1). As shown in Table 1, the overall mean
score of the critical thinking skills in the experimental group
was 10.05 ± 2.66 in the pre-test and 10.58 ± 2.76 in the post-
test, and the score in the control group was 10.65 ± 2.67 in the
pre-test and 10.05 ± 2.80 in the post-test. But the overall mean
score of the post-test was higher than the pre-test in the ex-
perimental group, while the score of the post-test was lower
than the pre-test in the control group. No significant difference
was found in the overall score. Compared the subscales scores
in the two groups, the experimental group’s score was lower
than the control group’s score in the pre-test, but in the post-test
the control group’s score was lower than the experimental
group’s. There were no statistically significant differences in
the subscales of the two groups. The relationship of three skills’
scores on the CCTST no matter in pre- or post-test or in the two
groups the sequences are E > A > Inf (Analysis, Evaluation,
The second method was used the paired-sample t-test (see
Table 2). Despite the overall score growth in the post-test, from
10.05 to 10.58, the score in the post-test was not significantly
different from those in the pre-test. The mean score of analysis
in the experimental group is 3.49 in the pre-test and it is 3.96 in
the post-test, increasing by 0.47 point (t = 2.065, p < 0.05),
which showed significant difference. The consequence indi-
cated that TBL could develop students’ analysis skills in chem-
istry experiment teaching. The other two subscales Evaluation
and Inference have no statistically significant differences in the
two tests. Figure 1 also demonstrated the change of the critical
thinking skills subscales in the experimental groups in the pre-
and post-test, and there was an increasing in the analysis and
almost no change in the evaluation and inference, which proved
the students’ analysis skills, can be improved by TBL in chem-
istry experiment teaching.
The above results showed that there was a significant differ-
ence of subscale analysis score in the experiment group in the
pretest and posttest (p < 0.05). It indicated that the students’
analysis skills level could be improved by the TBL in chemistry
experiment, though it had little impact on the other two skills –
evaluation and inference. In CCTST, analysis has two meanings.
On the one hand, it means categorization, decoding sentence
and clarifying meaning. On the other hand, it means examining
ideas, identifying arguments and analyzing arguments (Facione,
1990). A good teaching method is the one that implies relevant
and visible training values which shall motivate students and
make them aware of their understanding and reflection, help
them make up their critical thinking which will guarantee their
trust in their own forces (Iurea et al., 2011) TBL is a good tea-
Comparison of pre- and post-test on CCTST in the experimental group and control group (independent sample t-test).
(N = 59)
(N = 60)
Levene’s Test for Equality
of Variances t-test for Equality of Means
X ± sd X ± sd F P1 t P2
Pre-test 3.49 ± 1.43 3.85 ± 1.45 .0081 .9285 −1.3584 .0430
Post-test 3.97 ± 1.30 3.69 ± 1.65 5.0092 .0271 1.026 .3070
Pre-test 4.03 ± 1.61 4.25 ± 1.53 .3424 .5596 −.7497 .4549
Post-test 4.05 ± 1.78 3.82 ± 1.57 .4326 .5120 .7549 .4518
Pre-test 2.53 ± 1.25 2.55 ± 1.41 .3806 .5385 −.1120 .9110
Post-test 2.55 ± 1.32 2.54 ± 1.21 .5033 .4795 .0792 .9370
Pre-test 10.05 ± 2.66 10.65 ± 2.67 .1540 .6954 −1.2251 .2230
Post-test 10.58 ± 2.76 10.05 ± 2.80 .0085 .9265 1.0387 .3011
Q. ZHOU ET AL.
Comparison of pre- and post-test on CCTST in the experimental group
(paired sample t-test).
Pre-test (N = 59) Post-test (N = 59)
X ± sd X ± sd
Analysis 3.49 ± 1.43 3.96 ± 1.3 2.065*.043
Evaluation 4.03 ± 1.61 4.05 ± 1.78 .056 .956
Inference 2.53 ± 1.25 2.56 ± 1.32 .154 .878
Total score 10.05 ± 2.66 10.58 ± 2.76 1.17 .247
*p < 0.05.
Mean scores of CCTST three subscales of experimental group for two
tests. Note: A = analysis; E = evaluation; Inf = inference.
ching method and an active learning approach that provides
students with real-world situations and a chance to exercise
their critical thinking skills. At the same time, teamwork envi-
ronment inspires students to collaborate with teammates and to
cultivate their team spirit and leadership.
As Martin Luther King said, “The function of education is to
teach one to think intensively and to think critically”. This
study showed that TBL has revealed the advantage of fostering
the students’ critical thinking. The total score and the analysis
score were higher than the control groups. However, some li-
mitations of this study must be acknowledged. The level of eva-
luation and inference has not changed much in the experiment
group in the posttest. It could be explained by the fact that the
time-span covered by the experiments in class may have been
too short to allow the effects of the new method to be integrated.
Besides, the research and methods on developing and cultivat-
ing students’ critical thinking are still needed.
Qiuyan Huang gratefully thanks for the support of Innova-
tion Funds of Graduate Programs, provided by Shaanxi Normal
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