Date of Award

5-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Chemistry

Advisor

Daniel C. Whitehead

Committee Member

Michelle P. Cook

Committee Member

Jeffrey R. Appling

Abstract

Over decades, research in STEM education has been conducted to investigate how students translate from one representation to another. Based on dual coding theory, multiple external representations (MERs) can be effective when the verbal/linguistic representations are provided along with the corresponded diagrammatic/pictorial representations. However, little is known about the difficulties that undergraduate students encounter when translating between the verbal and diagrammatic representations in the context of the arrow-pushing formalism used in organic reaction descriptions. Chemists use the arrow-pushing formalism to represent the electron flow in organic mechanistic processes. Yet, far less is known about the meaning that undergraduate students attribute to the arrow-pushing formalism. Therefore, this study was initiated to investigate how undergraduate students interpret MERs, how they translate among them, and how they make sense of and employ the arrow-pushing formalism.

To examine students' understanding of the aforementioned chemical concepts, this study was designed and analyzed using a phenomenographic framework. Twenty undergraduate students from a variety of majors enrolled in a sophomore level organic course participated in two semi-constructed interviews. The data was then analyzed through a phenomenographic lens. The results can be summarized as follows: verbal representations of the arrow-pushing formalism have little meaning to the undergraduate students, while diagrammatic representations with the arrow-pushing formalism mean a lot; when the undergraduate students have less fluency in one representation, its complementary representations can be used to facilitate learning; curved arrows can trigger the undergraduate student's relevant chemical concepts which can be applied to solve organic tasks. The results suggested the effectiveness of MERs in the teaching of organic chemistry and emphasized the role that the arrow-pushing formalism plays in undergraduate students' learning experiences.

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