Classification of Chemical Susbtances, Reactions, and Interactions: The Effect of Expertise
AdvisorTalanquer, Vicente A.
Committee ChairTalanquer, Vicente A.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis project explored the strategies that undergraduate and graduate chemistry students engaged in when solving classification tasks involving microscopic (particulate) representations of chemical substances and microscopic and symbolic representations of different chemical reactions. We were specifically interested in characterizing the basic features to which students pay attention while classifying, identifying the patterns of reasoning that they follow, and comparing the performance of students with different levels of preparation in the discipline. In general, our results suggest that advanced levels of expertise in chemical classification do not necessarily evolve in a linear and continuous way with academic training. Novice students had a tendency to reduce the cognitive demand of the task and rely on common-sense reasoning; they had difficulties differentiating concepts (conceptual undifferentiation) and based their classification decisions on only one variable (reduction). These ways of thinking lead them to consider extraneous features, pay more attention to explicit or surface features than implicit features and to overlook important and relevant features. However, unfamiliar levels of representations (microscopic level) seemed to trigger deeper and more meaningful thinking processes. On the other hand, expert students classified entities using a specific set of rules that they applied throughout the classification tasks. They considered a larger variety of implicit features and the unfamiliarity with the microscopic level of representation did not affect their reasoning processes. Consequently, novices created numerous small groups, few of them being chemically meaningful, while experts created few but large chemically meaningful groups. Novices also had difficulties correctly classifying entities in chemically meaningful groups. Finally, expert chemists in our study used classification schemes that are not necessarily traditionally taught in classroom chemistry (e.g. the structure of substances is more relevant to them than their composition when classifying substances as compounds or elements). This result suggests that practice in the field may develop different types of knowledge framework than those usually presented in chemistry textbooks.