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Chemistry Faculty Present on Chemistry Education at Biennial Conference

Four faculty members from the Department of Chemistry traveled to State College, Pa., for the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE) and presented their work related to chemistry education.

John Woolcock

“Using Food Detectives and Chemistry Now in the Classroom”

Food Detectives is TV show hosted by Ted Allen that was designed to “answer all the burning questions you have about food with real science.” Each episode has multiple segments of varying lengths that investigate or describe such questions as: What chemical elements are present in foods? Does drinking ice water burn calories? Does alcohol burn off during cooking? Chemistry Now is a joint venture between NSF and NBC Learn that provides video segments and Internet resources on a variety of topics such as the Chemistry of Pumpkin Pie and the Chemistry of Smell. We will examine how the segments from these sources can be used to illustrate or teach chemistry concepts to nutrition and dietetics students in a non-majors chemistry course.

George Long

“The Necessity of Introductory Chemistry Labs: A Cognitive Argument"

Recently, questions regarding the importance of lab in introductory chemistry courses have arisen, driven by the lack of direct evidence that these introductory labs help students learn chemistry. Often, traditional studies show no significant difference in tests of information, practical application, and often even attitude. While it is generally accepted that chemists need to be trained in the use of laboratory equipment and laboratory practice, it is argued that these can be left to upper division courses, where precious resources are only used for those students who require this specific training. However, historically, most chemistry teachers have valued labs, albeit often intuitively. Given the counterintuitive result, it is thus worth considering if the conventional quantitative methods used miss some important aspects of learning. This presentation will discuss the use of qualitative evidence to look for unique cognitive aspects of learning in the laboratory, including the “knowledge as action” aspects of introductory labs, and will argue that the laboratory context provides an essential grounding of the concepts being studied.

Wendy Elcesser

“Decisions, Decisions, Decisions: Student Uncertainty in Procedural Design"

Coauthored by Anne Kondo (IUP) and Phil Palko (Indiana Area High School)
In our general chemistry laboratory, we teach a concept in week one and have the students solve a “real- world” problem in week two, modeling “Working With Chemistry.” Experiments differ in detail of directions and the decision making required. Expectations of the students increase between weeks. The program meets goals we set, including: excite interest in scientific investigation; learn to obtain and interpret data; and develop skills in designing procedures. These goals require students to make decisions. Students have difficulty committing to action when asked to develop a procedure, even to decide upon an appropriate sample size. Despite having completed directional pre-labs, students spend significant time musing about what to do. We discuss student decision-making, and what faculty can do to help without directly providing students with answers. How are the benefits (learning outcomes) of making decisions measured? What is an appropriate way to assess experimental design skills, including “failed” experiments? We measured time on task, time on quiz, and time until decision making in the kinetics and equilibrium laboratories was complete. We tracked performance on quizzes. We performed a qualitative analysis on the answers to the questions asked on the kinetics and equilibrium quizzes. As there was no statistical correlation between performance and these variables, we explored why decision making is so challenging: decision making is high on Bloom’s taxonomy; students lack confidence and experience; they are not used to organizing data in meaningful ways; they can lack initiative; they possess inflexibility; students can be bull-headed; they can be impulsive. We implemented pre-laboratory assignments and provided report tutorials to address some of these issues. We interacted with them, asking leading questions, and we rotated leadership roles to even-out group dynamics. We created experiments that would succeed even with “bad” decisions. More importantly, we let them fail.

Mike Briggs

“Qualitative Assessment of Inquiry-Based Teaching Methods"

A new approach to teaching method assessment using student-focused qualitative studies and the theoretical framework of mental models is proposed. The theoretical framework of mental models is discussed, and it is argued that the application of this methodology provides a more learner-focused approach to assessing a teaching activity. This method can provide more detail about the relevant cognitive processes used by the student, and thereby facilitate improved learning.

In addition to their presentations, Long and Briggs were co-organizers of the “Cognition in Chemistry Education” symposium.

About the BCCE

The Biennial Conference on Chemical Education is a national meeting sponsored by the Division of Chemical Education of the American Chemical Society and is designed for those who teach chemistry at all levels: secondary school science teachers, undergraduate and graduate students, and post-secondary chemistry faculty. The conference provides anyone teaching chemistry opportunities for interacting with like-minded colleagues in both formal and informal settings. Teachers who are about to launch their careers, those who are new to teaching chemistry, and those who have teaching experience will find this conference to be an excellent source of materials, techniques, and chemistry content. The BCCE helps teachers make connections with others equally committed to teaching chemistry.

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