Investigating undergraduate chemistry students’ reasoning and conceptual change related to graphical representations of particulate-level variation

We are interested in understanding how students’ ideas about particulate-level variation change over time as they progress through their first year of college-level chemistry, which will inform the development of collaborative learning activities. In this project, we use knowledge-in-pieces perspective and coordination class theory as theoretical lenses for examining how students read information from graphical representations, use prior knowledge, and make inferences about particulate-level variation. To this end, we will conduct a longitudinal study using a microgenetic multi-case approach with semi-structured interviews throughout the two-semester undergraduate general chemistry sequence. This will involve the use of eye-tracking technology to analyze features in representations that students attend to, which will supplement their verbal discussions.  (NSF DUE 1954861)

Researchers: Jon-Marc Rodriguez

Longitudinal Analysis of Students’ Ideas of Bonding Models

Prior work on students’ epistemic ideas in general chemistry contexts has suggested that general chemistry students may have context-sensitive epistemic ideas, but little work has examined either trajectories of growth across multiple courses or relationships to other types of knowledge in a more holistic approach. We seek to construct rich qualitative accounts informed by the knowledge-in-pieces framework that depict the development of how undergraduate chemistry students reason with and about bonding models across the chemistry curriculum. In this project, we combine longitudinal and cross-sectional approaches to investigate the cognitive and epistemic resources undergraduate chemistry students activate when using bonding models to predict and explain phenomena in: (1) general chemistry and (2) organic chemistry (3) inorganic chemistry, and (4) physical chemistry.

Researchers: Vinay Bapu Ramesh & Jon-Marc Rodriguez 

Characterizing student engagement in three-dimensional learning across transformed chemistry learning environments 

Three-dimensional (3D) learning, coined by Next Generation Science Standards, describes a vision of what it means to be proficient in science and represents a shift from memorization to a more student driven approach. The three dimensions include scientific practices, scientific core ideas, and cross-cutting concepts. In collaboration with Michigan State University and University of Wisconsin-Madison, the goal of this project is to examine the impact of three different learning environments on students’ reasoning involving science practices and epistemological assumptions towards knowledge construction. One aim of this work is to characterize instructional and assessment emphases in three distinct learning environments according to the ways in which big ideas, science practices, and cross-cutting concepts are addressed used the 3D-Learning Assessment Protocol, the 3D-Learning Observational Protocol, and the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM. We also aim to assess students knowledge-in-use and epistemological framing across the three environments using survey assessments, Chemistry Concept Inventory, and student interviews. 

Researchers: Leah Scharlott, Dalton Rippey, Stephanie Erps, Dr. Vanessa Ralph (UW-Madison), Cara Schwartz (UW-Madison), Dr. Ryan Stowe (UW-Madison)


Supporting students' understanding of mathematical models in the undergraduate general chemistry sequence

Mathematical problem solving is a key challenge for undergraduate chemistry students. There is evidence that many general chemistry students tend to use mathematical expressions algorithmically, with little understanding of how these expressions relate to what is happening at the molecular level. Our goal is to support students' reasoning with mathematics in chemistry courses by helping students better understand the nature and purpose of mathematical models in chemistry contexts. To this end, we seek to investigate students’ reasoning related to mathematical models, representations, graphs, and models of atomic-molecular structure. As part of this project we seek to: (1) develop assessments and accompanying rubrics that can be used to quickly and reliably measure students' engagement with scientific practices such as model-based reasoning and mathematical thinking in undergraduate chemistry courses and (2) use data and results from our research to develop and test collaborative learning activities aimed at engaging students in reasoning with models and modeling. (NSF DUE 1611622) With respect to assessment development, our group is interested in developing a set of assessments that provide a developmental view of students' reasoning with mathematical models and core ideas in introductory chemistry. That is, they will enable instructors to quickly and reliably determine the level of sophistication of students' reasoning about complex chemistry concepts rather than determining whether or not a student can select the correct response. For the curricular activities we are developing, the goal is to engage students in reasoning with mathematical, graphical, and atomic-level models in a collaborative learning environment, with the intention that the activities could serve as a type of formative assessment. Using design criteria informed by Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL), these activities will emphasize process skills while helping students learn content and utilize ideas related to the nature of scientific inquiry (nature of models, purpose of models, multiplicity of models, etc.).

Researchers: Kat Lazenby, Jon-Marc Rodriguez, Kevin Hunter, Leah Scharlott 


Coordination class theory as lens for examining students’ ideas about energy distribution and probabilistic processes

The idea that particles have a distribution of energy states is embedded in graphical and mathematical models of chemical behavior and is key to developing mechanistic explanations for chemical phenomena. Yet there is considerable evidence that coordinating particulate-level behavior to macroscopic scales and symbolic representations is a challenge for students. In this project, we use  Knowledge-in-Pieces perspective and Coordination Class theory as theoretical lenses for examining how students read information from graphical representations, use prior knowledge, and make inferences about processes such as reaction rate.

Researchers: Jon-Marc Rodriguez

EAGER Germination: What we talk about when we talk about big ideas: Using case studies to train PhD students in ideation and questioning processes

This project involves designing curricular resources for training graduate students in developing scientific questions to address societal challenges. We are examining the two different formats to graduate student training: The first is a semester-length course that will step chemistry and engineering graduate students through processes of ideation and question development using a well scaffolded 16-week framework. The second approach involves an informal drop-in weekly seminar/workshop (Reading-Writing Workshop; RWW) that will run for a year. Both approaches are introducing a conceptual framework that connects critical societal needs to the guiding questions of physical science research communities, and use case study work, including reviewing papers, memoirs, letter, and oral histories of significant scientists to explore their processes of idea generation, questioning of key assumptions, and integration of disciplinary approaches. Our group is examining the impact of each treatment on graduate students’ ideas about developing scientific questions and framing broader impacts of scientific research in terms of societal needs. (NSF DUE 1844448)

Researcher: Ryan Benson

Encouraging STEM students to become secondary teachers in Eastern Iowa

This implementation of the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program is a collaboration between the University of Iowa (UI) and Kirkwood Community College (KCC). The project is aimed at encouraging students in STEM coursework at KCC and UI to consider secondary science teaching careers and will support students in attaining a Masters of Arts in Science Teaching degree (MAT) or a Bachelor of Arts degree and MAT through the 4+1 program at the University of Iowa. Noyce Scholars will receive up to three years of financial support and will participate in summer professional development workshops designed to support deeper understanding of content knowledge, evidence-based pedagogies, and strategies for supporting underrepresented groups in STEM. (NSF DUE 1557346)

For more information about the Noyce Scholarship Program at the University of Iowa visit

Investigators: Dr. Ted Neal, Mr. Mark McDermott, Dr. Brooke Strahn-Koller, Amy Marling