Chemistry Misconceptions Research

Organizer: Stacey Lowery Bretz, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056, tel: (513) 529-3731, Email:

This symposium was selected by C&EN as one of its two "C&EN Picks: Anaheim Edition" for Wednesday, March 30 at the national meeting.

Chris Bauer, University of New Hampshire, began the symposium by sharing results from workshops on chemical pedagogy conducted with doctoral students at R1institutions around the country. Using questions from Mulford & Robinson's "Chemical Concept Inventory," Bauer asked graduate students to predict the most popular wrong answer by undergraduates and the magnitude of change for students after completing general chemistry. Graduate students regularly overestimated how much the students' thinking would change as a result of instruction. Asiana Banda, a graduate student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, shared his thesis findings regarding the understandings of Zambian Junior High School pre-service science teachers with regard to the particulate nature of matter, focused especially on phase changes. While teachers had a very good understanding of the speed of particles, the space between particles, and the number of particles during phase changes, the pre-service teachers repeatedly were challenged by their inability to discuss the size of particles during physical changes. Responses indicating that these future teachers thought molecules increased in size or changed in size due to changes in temperature or pressure were particularly problematic. Cynthia Luxford, a graduate student at Miami University, presented findings from her research regarding students' understanding of multiple representations used by chemists and textbooks to depict differences between covalent and ionic bonding. While high school and university students could identify the differences between sharing and transferring electrons as well as the connection to metals and nonmetals, their ability to identify these models in representations, and to create with fidelity their own representations to distinguish between ionic and covalent bonding revealed a significant disconnect between what students can say and what they are actually able to do. Michael Bindis, a graduate student at Miami University, discussed his research study to investigate students' knowledge of intermolecular forces, particularly in the context of paper chromatography. Most students can name one or more kinds of intermolecular forces. However, when asked to explain how one molecule is attracted to another, students attribute this attraction by invoking a wide spectrum of ideas, including charges, magnets, intermolecular forces, and covalent bonding. Ana Vasquez Murata, a graduate student at Miami University, shared results from her research study regarding student understanding of atomic emission. When shown flame tests and asked to explain what is happening, students report that atoms are breaking apart and compounds are vaporized, with the flame acting as a catalyst or indicator.

Jana Jensen, a graduate student at Miami University, presented a paper regarding student misconceptions about acid-base reactions. In addition to erroneously identifying OH in an alcohol as indicating a base, students also focused on the role of charges, equilibrium, and phases as indicative of whether a reaction on paper should be classified as acid-base or not. Donald Wink, University of Illinois at Chicago, shared findings from a research study investigating students' understandings of solutions. He presented results regarding concentration, identify of solute and solvent, and reactions that were used to create a Facet cluster analysis. The symposium concluded with two talks regarding students' misconceptions regarding biochemistry. Kimberly Linenberger, a graduate student at Miami University, described student misconceptions about enzyme-substrate interactions, including factors that affect complementarity. Using two pairs of representations, she presented preliminary findings from the Enzyme-Substrate Interactions Concept Inventory, including evidence for its reliability and validity. The symposium concluded with a talk by Sachel Villafañe, a graduate student at the University of South Florida, regarding an instrument developed to measure prior knowledge that students bring to biochemistry courses. Data regarding student thinking across seven different clusters, and use of the instrument for pre-post course gains were discussed.

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