Date of Award

May 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering and Science Education

Committee Member

Eliza D Gallagher

Committee Member

Cindy M Lee

Committee Member

Jeffrey Appling

Committee Member

Claire A Dancz

Committee Member

Bridget Trogden


General Chemistry (I and II) is a year-long introductory course frequently taken at the start of the college career for STEM-intending students. It is broadly found to be difficult, and many students struggle. Stoichiometry describes the relationships between compounds and elements in a reaction. It is a fundamental concept that is taught in the first semester of General Chemistry as a building block for the understanding of future concepts in second-semester and upper-level chemistry courses. Students have a difficult time conceptualizing stoichiometry because it involves a combination of algorithms and builds off of other fundamentals. However, studies claiming to focus on conceptualization of stoichiometry have actually focused more on solving or conceptualizing chemistry problems using models that have been accepted by chemistry instructors.

The purpose of my study was to develop a framework for understanding how General Chemistry students conceptualize key topics in stoichiometry. Previous studies related to conceptualization focused on content delivery or how the students' conceptualization aligned with the instructors' or what is accepted by chemists rather than solely focusing on what students understand. In this study, I used a phenomenographic method to explore the different ways students conceptualize stoichiometry in General Chemistry. I conducted nineteen interviews with students enrolled in General Chemistry II at Clemson University. Incorporated in the results of this study is the analysis of the various ways students conceptualize chemistry. The result of this study is a model which describes the five different ways General Chemistry II students conceptualize stoichiometry. This study fills the literature gap by exploring students' conceptualizations of stoichiometry using Knowledge Space

Theory (KST).

This study will help instructors in higher education recognize that there are different ways students conceptualize the fundamentals being taught within the course, which may not completely align with the instructors' conceptualization. My study can help other STEM fields reflect upon conceptualization and the potential to increase retention for STEM programs. To do this, studying students' conceptualization will help instructors develop curricula that focus on understanding fundamentals along with algorithms which can help students view STEM as achievable, inevitably filling STEM-related jobs in the United States as well as regaining a positive outlook of the field by the general public.



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