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Science in comics

A state school chemistry teacher has developed in her masters a comic magazine to teach stoichiometry

Written by Camila Raposo

Polinho was invited to his classmate’s birthday party, but since he had poor marks in chemistry, he had to take a makeup test. His mother would only allow him to go if he completed his stoichiometry homework, which is the area of chemistry that studies and determines the quantities involved in chemical reactions (do you remember the mole, atomic mass and molecular mass?). The problem is that the boy cannot understand the subject, so his friends go to his place to help him study.

The above situation, so common among high school students, is the starting point of the storyboard for the comics magazine As Confusões de Polinho (The Fumbles of Polinho), created by Fabiane de Andrade Ramos, a state school chemistry teacher in Rio Grande do Sul. The story was conceived as part of her Master’s  degree in Science Education at UFRGS, and it has the purpose of being used for the teaching of stoichiometry for high school students. As the teacher explains, stoichiometry was chosen because it is considered by both students and teachers to be the most difficult topic in chemistry, according to surveys in the field. “Students have a hard time understanding the subject, and teachers, lacking other teaching methods, find it hard to teach as well”, she says.

As stated by Ramos, the idea of taking comics magazines to the classroom was the result of two factors: the perception, from her own experience, of the lack of variety when it comes to didactic materials to teach chemistry, and the reading of Como usar as histórias em quadrinhos na sala de aula (Using comics in the classroom), organized by Angela Rama and Waldomiro Vergueiro. “The production of didactic materials is something that has always interested me. And by reading the book I decided to do a masters using both the comics and the desire of working with a different didactic material”, she points out.

Featuring plain language, in addition to examples and colorful illustrations, the magazine explains what atomic mass is, how it is calculated, how to calculate the mass of a molecule and of an ionic compound, the concepts of mole and molar mass, among other topics. Some challenges are also presented so that the students can solve them themselves. As Ramos’ advisor, professor Angela Wyse, emphasizes, the playfulness of comics magazines tends to make reading a much lighter and pleasant activity and it also facilitates the students’ learning process, “especially in regards to stoichiometry, which is very hard and difficult for the students to comprehend”, she adds, as a professional in the area of biochemistry who has also taught chemistry to high school students at the beginning of her career.

The magazine

In order to create a storyboard, they firstly surveyed students of three classes in their second year of high school at the Adelaide Pinto de Lima Linck State School, where Ramos is a teacher. “We firstly designed a questionnaire to verify whether they read comic books or not, whether this kind of material would be welcomed. In this research, we asked personal questions — what they enjoyed reading, what they enjoyed doing or where they enjoyed going to. Our goal was to get to know them better to relate the magazine to their day-to-day life”. By doing so, the teacher managed to include into the storyline elements with which her students could sympathize. The story is set in a school environment and talks about the life of a boy and his group of friends, including also references to parties, video games, social networks and crushes.

As part of her research, Ramos gave the magazine to the students of the three classes and compared what they had learned after reading the magazine to the results obtained after a traditional class. At first, the content was presented in the occasion of a conventional class — the teacher speaking in front of the class, a blackboard and textbooks. On the following day, the students were given exercises to solve in order to verify their level of understanding of the content. Afterwards, she brought the magazine to class, gave a copy to each student and let them read it individually. On the following day, the students were asked to take another test.

The researchers observed that the students’ performance was about 30% better after reading the comics magazine. Moreover, at the end of the process, the students answered a questionnaire evaluating the activity. The magazine’s acceptance rate was of 100%. “I didn’t imagine it would be so well received because we had data showing that only 40% of the students had the habit of reading comics. Everyone said they loved the activity, that they wanted more comics magazines for other contents. They really enjoyed working this way. Some even said that they would start buying comics magazines again”, said Ramos. “They kept reading and giggling during the whole 40-minute class. It’s very rewarding. Besides, I realized it was worth the effort once I corrected the tests and saw how much they had improved and understood the content,” she adds.

After observing the good results from the surveys, Ramos has been using the comics magazines since the end of the last year. She tells that the students’ reaction was similar to the one observed during the research, as the teenagers have demonstrated an interest in the magazine and a good performance in solving the chemistry exercises.

Although the magazine has not been published yet, the purpose of the researchers is to make it available on the UFRGS digital repository so that other teachers and students can have the chance to use it. Moreover, they intend to continue the project throughout Ramos’ doctorate, using the magazine in other schools and possibly developing new comics with different topics in chemistry.


Title: Teaching stoichiometry for high schoolers: the creation of a comic magazine

Author: Fabiane de Andrade Ramos

Advisor: Angela Terezinha de Sousa Wyse

Unity: Science Education Undergraduate Program: Life Chemistry and Health


Text in Portuguese available at:


Translated by Francesca Catani, Marcos Vinícius Melo da Silva and Mariana Lima Reginaldo

Translation revised by Prof. Márcia Moura da Silva (UFRGS)

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