Increasing the Understanding of Chemical Concepts: The Effectiveness of Multiple Exposures
Bius, Janet H.
University of Kansas
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Chemistry is difficult because it has multilevels of knowledge with each level presenting challenges in vocabulary, abstract thinking, and symbolic language. Students have to be able to transfer between levels to understand the concepts and the theoretical models of chemistry. The cognitive theories of constructivism and cognitive-load theory are used to explain the difficulties novice learners have with the subject of chemistry and methods to increase success for students. The relationship between external representations, misconceptions and topics on the success of students are addressed. If students do not know the formalisms associated with chemical diagrams and graphs, the representations will decrease student success. Misconceptions can be formed when new information is interpreted based on pre-existing knowledge that is faulty. Topics with large amount of interacting elements that must be processed simultaneously are considered difficult to understand. New variables were created to measure the number of times a student is exposed to a chemical concept. Each variable was coded according to topic and learning environment, which are the lecture and laboratory components of the course, homework assignments and textbook examples. The exposure variables are used to measure the success rate of students on similar exam questions. Question difficulty scales were adapted for this project from those found in the chemical education literature. The exposure variables were tested on each level of the difficulty scales to determine their effect at decreasing the cognitive demand of these questions. The subjects of this study were freshmen science majors at a large Midwest university. The effects of the difficulty scales and exposure variables were measured for those students whose exam scores were in the upper one-fourth percentile, for students whose test scores were in the middle one-half percentile, and the lower one-fourth percentile are those students that scored the lowest on the exam. The most difficult for all three percentiles were the topics of acid/base equilibria and aqueous equilibria. The exposure variables of recall and algorithmic homework increased student success for all percentiles. Students perform better on exam questions when they understand the terminology and symbolic representations of a topic.
- Chemistry Dissertations and Theses 
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