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35 East 12th Street, Holland, MI 49423-3605
Representing molecular structures in organic chemistry: How
does representation choice impact student success?
Abstract: Organic chemistry is a complex subject for new students, made more difficult by the considerable number of representational styles used by experts to symbolize chemical structures. In order to be successful in organic chemistry, students must be able to interpret multiple representation types, translate among these representations, and select appropriate
representations to solve problems. This study investigates student use of representations during problem solving to determine if a relationship exists between the use of particular representations and success in chemistry. Data will be presented from both laboratory and classroom studies of student problem solving. Classroom data demonstrates that simply changing the type of representation used in homework and test questions can significantly
impact student performance. Eye-tracking data suggests this may be related to how students select and employ representations during problem solving. Students are observed seeking out and making use of the most familiar representation type for a particular problem, regardless of whether this is the most efficient representation for problem solving, or how previous
instruction has incorporated various representations. Eye-tracking data, including fixational and scanpath analyses, will be used to describe student behavior during problem solving. Suggestions for incorporating representations into both classroom instruction and assessment
design will be given.
Bio: Jessica VandenPlas is an associate professor of chemistry at Grand Valley State University. She received a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the Catholic University of America in 2008, after completing an MS in Forensic Science at the George Washington University, and a BS in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her research
is focused in the area of chemistry education, and uses educational and psychological methodologies to investigate student learning in chemistry. Current research is focused on using eye-tracking techniques to examine student problem solving and cognitive load in chemistry, as well as the use of technology in the classroom.
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