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Supporting Learning and Teaching of Chemistry in the Undergraduate Classroom
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Mathematics and Science Education.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0712-0681
2019 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

There is agreement in research about the need to find better ways of teaching chemistry to enhance students’ understanding. This thesis aims to contribute to the understanding of how we better support teaching and learning of undergraduate chemistry to make it meaningful and intelligible for students from the outset. The thesis is concerned with examining the interactions between student, specific content and teacher in the undergraduate chemistry classroom; that is, the processes making up the three relations of the didactic triangle. The data consists of observations of students and tutors during problem-solving activities in an introductory chemistry course and interviews with graduate students.

Systematic analyses of the different interactions between the student, the chemistry content, and the tutor are made using the analytical tool of practical epistemology analysis. The main findings of the thesis include detailed insights into how undergraduate chemistry students deal with newly encountered content together with didactic models and concrete suggestions for improved teaching and for supporting continuity and progression in the undergraduate chemistry classroom. Specifically, I show how students deal with the chemistry content through a complex interaction of knowledge, experiences, and purposes on different levels invoked by both students and tutors as they interact with each other. Whether these interactions have a positive or negative effect on students’ learning depends on the nature of knowledge, experiences and purposes that were invoked. Moreover, the tutor sometimes invoked other purposes than the ones related to the task at hand for connecting the activity to the subject matter in general. These purposes were not always made continuous with the activity which resulting in confusion among students. The results from these analyses were used for producing hypotheses and models that could support continuity and progression during the activity. The suggested models aim to make the content more manageable and meaningful to students, enabling connections to other experiences and purposes, and helping teachers and tutors to analyze and reflect on their teaching. Moreover, a purpose- and activity-based progression is suggested that gives attention to purposes in chemistry education other than providing explanations of chemical phenomena. The aim of this ‘progression in action’ is to engage students in activities were they can see the meaning of chemical concepts and ideas through their use to accomplish different chemical tasks. A general conclusion is that detailed knowledge about the processes of teaching and learning is important for providing adequate support to both undergraduate students and university teachers in the chemistry classroom.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Mathematics and Science Education, Stockholm University , 2019. , p. 70
Series
Doctoral thesis from the department of mathematics and science education ; 20
Keywords [en]
undergraduate chemistry education, learning and teaching processes, didactic triangle, chemical bonding, tutor-student interaction, practical epistemology analysis, continuity, progression, purposes
National Category
Didactics
Research subject
Science Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-163805ISBN: 978-91-7797-538-0 (print)ISBN: 978-91-7797-539-7 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-163805DiVA, id: diva2:1277159
Public defence
2019-02-22, Vivi Täckholmsalen (Q-salen), NPQ-huset, Svante Arrhenius väg 20, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 3: Accepted. Paper 4: Manuscript.

Available from: 2019-01-30 Created: 2019-01-09 Last updated: 2019-01-22Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Developing an approach for teaching and learning about Lewis structures
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Developing an approach for teaching and learning about Lewis structures
2017 (English)In: International Journal of Science Education, ISSN 0950-0693, E-ISSN 1464-5289, Vol. 39, no 12, p. 1601-1624Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study explores first-year university students' reasoning as they learn to draw Lewis structures. We also present a theoretical account of the formal procedure commonly taught for drawing these structures. Students' discussions during problem-solving activities were video recorded and detailed analyses of the discussions were made through the use of practical epistemology analysis (PEA). Our results show that the formal procedure was central for drawing Lewis structures, but its use varied depending on situational aspects. Commonly, the use of individual steps of the formal procedure was contingent on experiences of chemical structures, and other information such as the characteristics of the problem given. The analysis revealed a number of patterns in how students constructed, checked and modified the structure in relation to the formal procedure and the situational aspects. We suggest that explicitly teaching the formal procedure as a process of constructing, checking and modifying might be helpful for students learning to draw Lewis structures. By doing so, the students may learn to check the accuracy of the generated structure not only in relation to the octet rule and formal charge, but also to other experiences that are not explicitly included in the formal procedure.

Keywords
Chemistry education, problem-solving, Lewis structures
National Category
Educational Sciences
Research subject
Science Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-147241 (URN)10.1080/09500693.2017.1342053 (DOI)000409177000002 ()
Available from: 2017-09-20 Created: 2017-09-20 Last updated: 2019-01-21Bibliographically approved
2. Tutor-student interaction in undergraduate chemistry: a case of learning to make relevant distinctions of molecular structures for determining oxidation states of atoms
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Tutor-student interaction in undergraduate chemistry: a case of learning to make relevant distinctions of molecular structures for determining oxidation states of atoms
2018 (English)In: International Journal of Science Education, ISSN 0950-0693, E-ISSN 1464-5289, Vol. 40, no 16, p. 2023-2043Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In this study, we explore the issues and challenges involved in supporting students’ learning to discern relevant and critical aspects of determining oxidation states of atoms in complex molecules. We present a detailed case of an interaction between three students and a tutor during a problem-solving class, using the analytical tool of practical epistemology analysis (PEA). The results show that the ability to make relevant distinctions between the different parts of a molecule for solving the problem, even with the guidance of the tutor, seemed to be challenging for students. These shifts were connected to both purposes that were specific for solving the problem at hand, and additional purposes for general learning of the subject matter, in this case how to assign oxidation states in molecules. The students sometimes could not follow the additional purposes introduced by the tutor, which made the related distinctions more confusing. Our results indicate that in order to provide adequate support and guidance for students the tutor needs to consider how to sequence, move between, and productively connect the different purposes introduced in a tutor-student interaction. One way of doing that is by first pursuing the purposes for solving the problem and then successively introduce additional, more general purposes for developing students’ learning of the subject matter studied. Further recommendations drawn from this study are discussed as well.

Keywords
Chemistry education, problem solving, tutor-student interaction
National Category
Didactics
Research subject
Science Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-163052 (URN)10.1080/09500693.2018.1517423 (DOI)
Available from: 2018-12-21 Created: 2018-12-21 Last updated: 2019-01-10Bibliographically approved
3. The role of anthropomorphisms in students’ reasoning about chemical structure and bonding
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The role of anthropomorphisms in students’ reasoning about chemical structure and bonding
(English)In: Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, ISSN 1609-4913, E-ISSN 1609-4913Article in journal (Refereed) Accepted
Abstract [en]

Anthropomorphisms are widespread at all levels of the educational system even among science experts. This has led to a shift in how anthropomorphisms are viewed in science education, from a discussion of whether they should be allowed or avoided towards an interest in their role in supporting students’ understanding of science. In this study we examine the role of anthropomorphisms in supporting students’ understanding of chemistry. We analyze examples from undergraduate students’ discussions during problem-solving classes through the use of practical epistemology analysis (PEA). Findings suggest that students invoked anthropomorphisms alongside technical relations which together produced more or less chemically appropriate explanations. Also, anthropomorphisms constitute potentially productive points of departure for rendering students’ explanations more chemically appropriate. The implications of this study refer to the need to deal with anthropomorphisms explicitly and repeatedly as well as to encourage explicit connections between different parts of the explanation - teleological as well as causal.

Keywords
Anthropomorphism, chemical bonding, chemistry education, explanations
National Category
Didactics
Research subject
Science Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-163800 (URN)
Available from: 2019-01-09 Created: 2019-01-09 Last updated: 2019-01-15
4. Progression in action for developing chemical knowledge
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Progression in action for developing chemical knowledge
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In this paper, we discuss the well-known teaching challenge of how to provide undergraduate students with basic chemistry knowledge without making them experience these basics as meaningless and unintelligible. First, we situate the challenge in a classic dilemma: should we teach the necessary basic facts before the chemical explanations or should the explanations be taught before or in parallel to these facts? Here we draw on examples from interviews with graduate students reflecting on their experiences regarding their studies at the undergraduate level. Second, we suggest a way out of the dilemma, through a shift in perspective from the typical progression of facts and explanations towards a purpose and activity-based progression. We conclude with a discussion of implications of such a shift for university chemistry education together with suggestions for future research.

Keywords
basics, explanations, progression, purposes, undergraduate chemistry
National Category
Educational Sciences
Research subject
Science Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-163334 (URN)
Available from: 2018-12-21 Created: 2018-12-21 Last updated: 2019-01-09Bibliographically approved

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