Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department



Cooper, Melanie M

Committee Member

Bhattacharyya , Gautam

Committee Member

Dominy , Brian N

Committee Member

Hazari , Zahra


The heart of learning chemistry is the ability to connect a compound's structure to its function; Lewis structures provide an essential link in this process. In many cases, their construction is taught using an algorithmic approach, containing a set of step-by-step rules. We believe that this approach is in direct conflict with the precepts of meaningful learning. From a sequential, mixed methods study, we found that students have much difficulty constructing these structures and that the step-by-step rules do not make use of students' relevant prior knowledge. This causes students to develop 'home grown' rules when unsure of how to progress with the construction process. It also became clear that most students are uncertain of the importance of Lewis structures since they perceive them as being useful only for obtaining structural information but not property information. Using responses from student interviews and open ended questions, the Information from Lewis Structures Survey (ILSS) was developed, validated, and found reliable to assess students' representational competence by determining their understanding of the purpose of Lewis structures. Since students had many problems with the relationship of structures and properties, an alternative curriculum was evaluated to determine if it could help students develop a more meaningful understanding of this process. This instruction was part of a larger NSF-funded general chemistry curriculum redesign called Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything (CLUE). Using a control and treatment group, the effectiveness of this new curriculum was evaluated for two main aspects: 1. the students' ability to construct Lewis structures using OrganicPad and 2. the students' representational competence using the ILSS. Through four main studies (a pilot study, instructor effect study, main study, and retention study), we found that the CLUE curriculum helps students develop more expert-like strategies for constructing Lewis structures and a better understanding of why these structures are important by encouraging more meaningfully learning.

Included in

Chemistry Commons