Ozcan Gulacar, University of California, Davis
Chemistry students struggle with interpreting given information in problems and face difficulties in separating relevant information from distractors, which cause failure in generating successful solutions. Chemistry educators have extensively studied the nature of problem solving and aimed to pinpoint the students’ challenges. However, very few of these studies focus on the individual steps and mostly examine students’ success with the final answer. In this study, a group of general chemistry students’ cognitive abilities and domain-specific skills were compared by analyzing their performances on 25 stoichiometry questions. To better understand the reasons behind their failures and achievements, students were grouped as higher- or lower-achieving based on the results of a diagnostic test, and similarities and differences in their performances, strategies, and mistakes were investigated. The study revealed that the major difference between higher- and lower-achieving students lies in their cognitive skills, especially in domain-specific (mole concept) skills and in their abilities to deal with the complex nature of problems. Results suggest that when possible, a thoroughly differentiated set of tasks be applied in the undergraduate chemistry classroom: tasks with limited complexity and structured help or scaffolding are needed for lower-achieving students, whereas complex and abstract tasks are needed to challenge the higher-achieving ones.
Flyer FIle: gulacar_ozcan_ccb_flyer.pdf