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Melanie Cooper


Title: Professor

Webpage: Research Group

Area(s): Chemistry Education 

Contact: 216A CEM / 355-9715 x197


(Research Description PDF - 564 kb)

Evidence-based approaches to improving chemistry education are the focus of Dr Cooper's research. One of the prime outcomes of this research is the development and assessment of evidence-driven, research-validated curricula. For example: Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything is a new general chemistry curriculum that uses the emergence and evolution of life as the scaffold to teach chemical principles. The materials under development are a text, interactive applets where students explore difficult concepts, guided tutorials, and a variety of assessments — ranging from formative concept inventories, to criterion-based assessments, and problem solving materials. All of these materials are based on research (ours and others) about how students learn and develop the cognitive skills that will allow them to develop a robust understanding of chemistry concepts and problem solving — rather than rely on memorization and algorithms that are not transferrable to new situations.

The development of new curriculum materials is based on our research in a number of areas:

The Effect of Interventions and Educational Environments on Problem Solving and Metacognition: We have developed a number of assessments that allow us to probe student problem solving ability, strategy, and metacognition as they change over time. These tools allow us to assess the effects of specifically designed interventions and research-based curricula on these constructs.

Investigation of Representational Competence: The relationship between structure and properties is fundamental to a deep understanding of chemistry, yet little is known about how students learn to construct and use different types of representations. We are investigating this using OrganicPad a tablet-based program that allows us to observe and model how students draw different types of structures.

BeSocratic: A free-form interactive system to investigate the development of representational competence: (http://besocratic.chemistry.msu.edu/). Our previous research has produced a large database of information on how students construct and use representations, and we propose to further develop and deploy a flexible, web-based system, BeSocratic, that can recognize and respond to free-form student input in the form of graphical representations, including chemical structures, and graphs, and simple diagrams. We are developing tutorials and formative assessment activities that pose students with a problem that they must answer by constructing a representation. The system can recognize the input and respond accordingly with appropriate tiered contextual feedback.

CLUE Learning progression for structure and function


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. 2012, 89(11), 1351–1357.

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. 2012, 13, 195-200.

Does Mechanistic Thinking Improve Student Success in Organic Chemistry? Grove, N; Cooper, M.M., J. Chem. Educ201289(7), 850–885.

Graph-based assessments, Socratic tutorials & students' thinking about molecular networks, C. Trujillo, M.M. Cooper & M.W. Klymkowsky, BAMBED 2012, 40, 100-107.

Decorating with arrows: Towards the development of representational competence inorganic chemistry, M. M. Cooper, N Grove, J. Chem. Educ.201289(7), 844–849.

Effect of cooperative problem based lab instruction on metacognition and problem solving skills, S. Sandi-Urena; M. M. Cooper, T. Gatlin, G. Bhattacharyya; R. Stevens, J. Chem. Educ., 2012, 89(6), 700–706.

Students’ experience in a general chemistry cooperative problem based laboratory, S. Sandi-Urena; M. M. Cooper, T. Gatlin, G. Bhattacharyya, Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 2011, 12, 434-442.

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 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.