Transition of Mathematics Skills into Introductory Chemistry Problem Solving

Published

Book Section

© 2019 American Chemical Society. We investigate and discuss the math-chemistry link for a subpopulation of undergraduate learners present at every institution: students who have extremely limited experience with chemistry problem solving or have standardized test math scores in the lowest quartile for their incoming matriculating class. Our institutional experience has been that additional college-level coursework in mathematics, prior to enrollment in chemistry, does not improve student outcomes. In this case study, we created a matrix of problems. Each row of the matrix included three categories of problems: (1) symbolic math algebra problems that involved solving or simplifying an equation with variables such as x and y, (2) word problems using the same type of equation or systems of equations, but with domain-general, everyday terms, and (3) analogous problems using domain-specific chemistry terminology. We explored precourse student responses on these items, final exam scores, and course grade outcomes collected over eight years in a first-semester introductory chemistry course. Most of the students answered 100% of the algebra problems correctly, but very few of the students submitted correct answers for 100% of the analogous word problems even in the domain-general category. With our instrument, the domain-general word problem outcomes were the best predictor of student success in the course: these were more predictive than the chemistry problems on the instrument. Results are discussed within the frameworks of Johnstone's triangle and Vygotsky's zone of proximal development.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Cooke, BP; Canelas, DA

Published Date

  • January 1, 2019

Volume / Issue

  • 1316 /

Book Title

  • ACS Symposium Series

Start / End Page

  • 119 - 133

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780841234352

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1021/bk-2019-1316.ch008

Citation Source

  • Scopus