Jump to Main Content

Melanie Cooper


Title: Professor, Lappan-Phillips Professor

Webpage: Research Group

Area(s): Chemistry Education 

Contact: 216A CEM / 355-9715 x197


(Research Description PDF - 675 kb)

Evidence based approaches to teaching, learning and assessment are the focus of Dr. Cooper’s research. Our goal is to characterize student thinking about major chemistry ideas and use this knowledge to improve teaching and learning. For example: Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything (CLUE) is a new NSF supported general chemistry curriculum that was developed in collaboration with Mike Klymkowsky (University of Colorado at Boulder). CLUE is based on three core ideas of chemistry - structure, properties and energy as three intertwined learning progressions that are developed simultaneously over the two semester course. CLUE represents a model for curriculum development based on five important questions:

(i) What should students know and be able to do? (ii) In what order should they learn it? (iii) What do students bring with them to the course? (iv) What materials are best suited for different purposes? and (v) How can student understanding be assessed? Our research has focused on each of these questions. That is we are interested in characterizing the core concepts of chemistry and, by providing opportunities to use these ideas in the context of scientific practices we can describe what students should know and be able to do with that knowledge. For example we ask students to construct and use models to predict and explain chemical phenomena, to use data to support and develop arguments and to construct explanations about important ideas in chemistry. To do this we are designing evidence based learning progressions for the core ideas, structure, properties and energy using design-based research to investigate how students ideas about these concepts progress over time and folding this research back into the design of the curriculum.

To design effective curricula we need to know what students bring to the table in terms of knowledge and science practices, and we also must understand how and why (under traditional curriculum structures) students develop ideas that are not scientifically sound. For example we have shown that for many students, when they consider how the molecular level structure of a substance can be used to predict macroscopic properties, their ideas are often a loosely woven tapestry of concepts, facts and skills, rather than a useful framework of ideas. We have used this work to design a more coherent approach to structure property relationships, and have shown that students who learn in this way are significantly better at both constructing and using structures to predict properties. We have followed these students through organic chemistry and find that the CLUE students are still significantly better than a matched cohort of students who learned general chemistry in a more traditional setting.

Similarly our recent work on the central (and cross cutting concept of energy) has focused on how students think about energy in chemical systems, and this work has informed our learning progression for energy.

We are also interested in developing formative assessment systems that allow students to construct (free form) structures, diagrams, and models, and to develop explanations for phenomena. Our system beSocratic (http://besocratic.chemistry.msu.edu) is designed to recognize and respond to student input. We are developing and assessing the effect of tutorials and formative assessment activities using beSocratic.

Figure 1: Sankey diagram showing how CLUE and traditional students represent intermolecular forces as within or between molecules


  1. Cooper. M. M. & Becker, N. M. “College chemistry students’ understanding of potential energy in the context of atomic-molecular interactions” 2014 J. Res. Sci Teach. DOI 10.1002/tea.21159,
  2. Cooper, M. M., Klymkowsky, M. W., & Becker, N. M. (2014). Energy in chemical systems: An integrated approach. In Teaching and learning of energy in K–12 education (pp. 301-316). Springer International Publishing.
  3. Cooper, M. M., Underwood, S. M., Bryfczynski, S. P., & Klymkowsky, M. W. (2014). A Short History of the Use of Technology To Model and Analyze Student Data for Teaching and Research. Tools of Chemistry Education Research1166.
  4. Samuel P. Bryfczynski, Rebecca Brown, Josiah Hester, Andrew Herrmann, Danielle L. Koch, Melanie M. Cooper, and Nathaniel P. Grove. uRespond: iPad as Interactive, Personal Response System. Journal of Chemical Education DOI: 10.1021/ed4006453.
  5. Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything (CLUE): A new approach to general chemistry, and a model for curriculum reform, Cooper. M.M. Klymkowsky, M.W., J. Chem. Educ. 201390, 1116-1122.
  6.  An Investigation of College Chemistry Students Understanding of Structure-Property Relationships, Cooper. M.M. Corley, L; Underwood, S.M., J. Res. Sci. Teach. 201350 (6), 699–721.
  7. Cooperative Chemistry Laboratories, a 20 year study, Cooper. M.M.; Sandi-Urena, ACS Symposium Proceedings 2014doi: 10.1021/bk-2013-1145.ch004
  8. The Trouble with Chemical Energy, Cooper, M.M., Klymkowsky, M.W., CBE Life Sci. Educ. 201312(2), 306-12.
  9. Development and Assessment of a Molecular Structure and Properties Learning Progression, Cooper, M. M.; Underwood, S. M.; Caleb Z. Hilley, and Michael W. Klymkowsky, J. Chem. Educ. 201289(11), 1351–1357.
  10. Development and validation of the Implicit Information from Lewis Structures Instrument (IILSI): Do students connect structures with properties?, Cooper, M. M.; Underwood, S. M.; Hilley, C. Z., Chem. Educ. Res. Pract. 201213, 195-200.

B.S., 1975, Univ. of Manchester, England

M.S., 1976, Univ. of Manchester, England

Ph.D., 1978, Univ. of Manchester, England

Professor, 1987-2012, Clemson University

Lappan-Phillips Chair of Science Education

Award Organization Division Level Code Type Code Start Date End Date
Achievement in Research for the Teaching and Learning of Chemistry. ACS Professional Education 2014
James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Teaching of Chemistry Professional Education 2013
MSU Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education Professional Education 2013
Date Content

Professor Rob Maleczka has been named a 2014 ACS Fellow.  The ACS Fellow program honors ACS members for outstanding achievements in and contributions to science, the profession, and ACS.  Professor Maleczka joins the Department's previously named ACS Fellows, Melanie Cooper, Xuefei Huang, Paul Mantica and Kennie Merz.  Also among the 2014 fellows is Professor Emmanuel P. Giannelis.  Professor Giannelis is the Walter R. Read Professor of Engineering in the Materials Science and Engineering Department of Cornell University.  He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from MSU in 1985, working with Professor Tom Pinnavaia.  Other MSU Chemistry alumni to have been previously named ACS Fellows include Bridgette A. Barry (Post-doc, 1985), David E. Bergbrieter (BS, 1970), Joseph A. Caruso (PhD, 1967), Larry R. Dalton (BS, 1965), Mary Ann B. Meador (PhD, 1983), Patrick B. Smith (PhD, 1978), Claudia Turro (PhD, 1992), and Bobby L. Wilson (PhD, 1976).


Professor Melanie Cooper has won the 2014 ACS Award for Achievement in Research for the Teaching and Learning of Chemistry.


Professor Melanie Cooper was awarded the 2013 James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Teaching of Chemistry.  The Award, the first national award for outstanding achievement in the teaching of chemistry, was established in 1950 by the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society to honor the memory of James Flack Norris, Professor of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a teacher of great repute.  More information can be found here.


Melanie M. Cooper was installed as the first Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education in the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Chemistry at an investiture ceremony held on March 21 in the Christman Lounge at MSU’s Wharton Center for the Performing Arts.