Developing Learning Environments that Support Molecular-Level Sensemaking

This project will investigate how high school students can be supported in developing, organizing and using knowledge of atomic/molecular behavior to make sense of phenomena such as phase changes, atomic emmision spectra and dissolution. The project will study whether an innovative college level curriculum, "Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything" (CLUE) can be co-modified by teachers, chemists, and researchers to help students master these difficult concepts and connections.

Full Description: 

This Early Stage Design and Development (Level II) project is aimed at understanding how learning environments should be designed to support high school students enrolled in an introductory chemistry course in making sense of phenomena in terms of atomic/molecular behavior. As students do not derive many intellectual resources useful for reasoning about the particulate-level from experience, sensemaking in chemistry relies heavily on knowledge cultivated in formal instructional settings. A significant body of research on college-level learning environments indicates that centering instruction around scaffolded progressions of core ideas help students develop, organize, and use their knowledge to explain and model phenomena. Preliminary results from a study conducted by the PI and co-PI show that adapting college-level, evidence-based conceptual progressions for use in high school has the potential to aid students in connecting molecular-level structure to measurable properties. 

This research program focuses on leveraging the practical knowledge of teacher co-developers who participated in preliminary studies to realize a Next-Generation Science Standards-aligned curricular framework supportive of 3-dimensional learning in chemistry. In designing learning environments supportive of molecular-level sensemaking, the research team will consider 1) when students are prepared to grapple with the inferences required to figure out causes for observable occurrences, and 2) how sensemaking opportunities should be structured to engage students in collaborative construction and critique of explanations and models of phenomena. Student ability to engage in sensemaking will be assessed via analysis of responses to carefully designed and validated three-dimensional assessments, and analysis of the discourse practices of student groups as they engage in construction and refinement of models and explanations. This program of research will also place substantial focus on characterizing how and why teacher co-developers modify curricular materials in order that supports for productive modifications might be embedded throughout teacher-facing resources. This project will provide evidence about how students should be supported in developing, organizing, and using knowledge of atomic/molecular behavior to make sense of phenomena. Concomitant focus on the design and analysis of learning environments for high school chemistry will enable data-driven refinement of materials, and support elucidation of generalizable design principles. The aim of this research is to develop and make available materials that constitute "tool kits" for a curricular activity system (including text, teacher guides, student guides, and formative and summative assessments). Three-dimensional assessment items designed and validated in the research will be made broadly available and could serve as benchmarks for the efficacy of high school chemistry curricula nationwide.

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