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Colloquium - Hutchinson

Teaching Chemistry as a Context for Inductive and Scientific Reasoning: The Case Studies in Concepts Approach
Professor of Chemistry, Rice University

Scientific thinking involves the development of concepts, models, and theories using inductive reasoning based on experimental observation. These models, when successful, can be used to predict further observations using deductive reasoning. Unfortunately, in the most commonly applied approaches to teaching Chemistry, only the deductive portion of scientific reasoning is introduced. Concepts, models, and theories are presented indistinguishably from observations, and the focus of instruction is on problem solving using these fundamentals. Research has demonstrated that, as a consequence of this standard approach, students find chemical concepts mysterious, maintaining serious misconceptions about these concepts despite instruction. Failing to see the scientific reasoning behind the concepts, they find Chemistry obscure and boring. We have developed at Rice University a novel approach to introducing fundamental concepts in General Chemistry by presenting case studies in concept development. These case studies require our students to develop chemical concepts via inductive reasoning from experimental observations to model development. To analyze the effectiveness of this approach, we have developed a series of pre-instruction diagnostic quizzes for comparison to post-instruction examinations. The results demonstrate that our students develop a deep conceptual understanding of Chemistry, are capable of the standard set of skills required in General Chemistry, and are able to reason through complex conceptual arguments. These results reinforce the views of the students themselves that they prefer learning the reasoning behind the concepts rather than simply being told what the concepts are. A significant advantage of the inductive reasoning approach is that it reinforces use of active learning methods in the classroom.

This talk is part of the Faculty Teaching Excellence Program's Professional Lecture Series.
Reception to follow in CIRES Atrium.

Department of Computer Science
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309-0430 USA
May 5, 2012 (14:13)