Research Themes

Mechanisms of Language and Learning Chemistry. Chemistry educators have long acknowledged issues with language and learning chemistry. However, a much deeper understanding of how language impacts chemistry learning is needed to have an impact on classroom practice. We explore lexical ambiguity and conjecture that when words used in everyday English are used with different meanings in chemistry, concepts linked to those words are more difficult to master. We aim to identify such language in undergraduate chemistry education, characterize alternative conceptions brought about by it, and probe how instructors model its use.

Inorganic Chemistry Education: Learning Symmetry. Molecular Symmetry is a foundational topic in Inorganic Chemistry. Practically, this classification is not surprising, as symmetry is fundamental to understanding other important concepts, such as group theory, molecular orbital theory, and interpretation of spectroscopic data (e.g., electronic absorbance, nuclear magnetic resonance, vibrational). Previous work suggests that symmetry’s putative demand on visualization and spatial reasoning skills may impede student mastery of this topic. Moreover, traditional symmetry instruction and assessment practices could impose the additional limitation of using two-dimensional representations to represent three-dimensional molecular structure. We are exploring what features are attended to and what strategies are used when students interrogate molecular structure using elements of symmetry.

Image by Matt Kinshella.

Equity in Higher Chemistry Education. Factors that contribute to success in chemistry courses and careers can inform pedagogical strategies. It is important, however, that pedagogical strategies be informed not by solely focusing on students with perceived inadequacies (i.e., a deficit model, “fixing” the student), but by exploring classroom/program norms/structures that support the learning and development of all students (i.e., an achievement model). We are working to inform such structural changes in the general chemistry classroom, in graduate education, and in two-year to four-year transfer.

Adapted from Mislevy, R. J.; Haertel, G. D. Implications of Evidence-Centered Design for Educational Testing. Educ. Meas. Issues Pract. 2006, 25 (4), 6–20.

Assessment and Curriculum Development. We apply evidence-centered design using  design-based implementation research strategy to design core idea (vis-à-vis A Framework for K-12 Science Education) based curricula and core idea assessments for General and Inorganic Chemistry.