Common-Sense Chemistry: The Use of Assumptions and Heuristics in Problem Solving
MetadataShow full item record
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.
AbstractStudents experience difficulty learning and understanding chemistry at higher levels, often because of cognitive biases stemming from common sense reasoning constraints. These constraints can be divided into two categories: assumptions (beliefs held about the world around us) and heuristics (the reasoning strategies or rules used to build predictions and make decisions). A better understanding and characterization of these constraints are of central importance in the development of curriculum and teaching strategies that better support student learning in science. It was the overall goal of this thesis to investigate student reasoning in chemistry, specifically to better understand and characterize the assumptions and heuristics used by undergraduate chemistry students. To achieve this, two mixed-methods studies were conducted, each with quantitative data collected using a questionnaire and qualitative data gathered through semi-structured interviews. The first project investigated the reasoning heuristics used when ranking chemical substances based on the relative value of a physical or chemical property, while the second study characterized the assumptions and heuristics used when making predictions about the relative likelihood of different types of chemical processes. Our results revealed that heuristics for cue selection and decision-making played a significant role in the construction of answers during the interviews. Many study participants relied frequently on one or more of the following heuristics to make their decisions: recognition, representativeness, one-reason decision-making, and arbitrary trend. These heuristics allowed students to generate answers in the absence of requisite knowledge, but often led students astray. When characterizing assumptions, our results indicate that students relied on intuitive, spurious, and valid assumptions about the nature of chemical substances and processes in building their responses. In particular, many interviewees seemed to view chemical reactions as macroscopic reassembling processes where favorability was related to the perceived ease with which reactants broke apart or products formed. Students also expressed spurious chemical assumptions based on the misinterpretation and overgeneralization of periodicity and electronegativity. Our findings suggest the need to create more opportunities for college chemistry students to monitor their thinking, develop and apply analytical ways of reasoning, and evaluate the effectiveness of shortcut reasoning procedures in different contexts.
Degree ProgramGraduate College