An Initial Learning Progression in Chemical Design (Collaborative Research: Talanquer)

In this project, investigators are developing and testing a learning progression for the study of chemistry. Likely pathways are investigated for how grade 8-13 student's implicit assumptions develop on five major threads of chemical design. A focus on chemical design facilitates the coherent integration of scientific and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. This approach should make chemistry more engaging to a greater variety of students.

Award Number: 
1221494
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2012 - Sun, 08/31/2014
Full Description: 

In this two-year exploratory project, science educators at the University of Massachusetts Boston collaborate with those at the University of Arizona to develop and test a learning progression for the study of chemistry. Likely pathways are investigated for how grade 8-13 student's implicit assumptions develop on five major threads of chemical design - chemical identity, structure-property relationships, chemical causality and mechanism, chemical control and cost-benefit-risks. A focus on chemical design - the identification and synthesis of chemical compounds - facilitates the coherent integration of scientific and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. This approach should make chemistry more engaging to a greater variety of students including those in Career and Technical Education.

The project investigates the core implicit assumptions that can be expected to characterize and constrain novice and sophisticated student reasoning about each of the five major threads of chemical design. It also suggests the hypothetical "stepping stones" that characterize the progression from novice to sophisticated reasoning in chemical design. Existing research literature on student ideas and on related developmental psychology and cognitive science research is reviewed. Project staff together with twelve master high school and middle school science teachers in the Boston Public Schools develop a framework that can be used to compare and contrast more or less sophisticated ways of thinking about foundational ideas for the understanding of chemical design and from them derive hypotheses about "stepping stones" in understanding the implication of chemical design. Questionnaires and interview protocols similar to those employed in previous projects are used with students in grades 8, 10, 12 and college freshmen and their teachers to refine and enrich initial hypotheses about the evolution of core implicit assumptions along the five threads. The research is evaluated by an advisory board of science educators and educational researchers using a written protocol. Content is reviewed by practicing chemists.

A concise and clear summary of the learning progression is produced with an intended audience of teachers, curriculum developers and publishers who are implementing or revising curriculum. The dissemination of this summary includes a brief market research survey of teachers, curriculum developers and publishers of high school chemistry materials. Versions of validated open-response instruments that can be easily implemented by teachers as formative assessments of student understanding in the areas targeted by the study are also published. An understanding is gained of some of the challenges associated with implementing the Next Generation Science Standards in a way that meaningfully integrates science and engineering practice, important content and cross cutting themes in the context of learning about chemical design.

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