Evidence-based Approaches to Improving Chemistry Education

Melanie Cooper

Professor

216A CEM

517-353-1114


Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education


Research webpage


Primary Research Area

Chemical Education (CE)

Other Area(s) of Interest

Research

(Research Description PDF)

The focus of our research is to develop evidence based approaches to teaching, learning and assessment. Our work involves a wide range of activities and methods including designing ways to assess both what students know and how they use their knowledge, developing curriculum materials, and evaluating the effects of transformation efforts both within and across disciplines.

To design effective curricula we need to know what students bring to the table both in their prior knowledge and what they are able to do with that knowledge. We also must understand how and why 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 properties macroscopic properties, their ideas are often a loosely woven tapestry of concepts, facts and skills, rather than a useful framework of ideas.


Our approach to curriculum transformation uses a design based research cycle in which we identify what students should know and be able to do, design and implement a curriculum that would meet these goals, assess student achievement and use the results of the assessments to revise the curriculum and accompanying assessment materials These assessments require students to construct (free form) structures, diagrams, and models, and to develop explanations for phenomena. Our formative assessment system, beSocratic (http://besocratic.com), is designed to recognize and respond to student input.


Examples of this process are Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything (CLUE), an NSF supported general chemistry curriculum, and Organic Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything (OCLUE) (both developed in collaboration with Mike Klymkowsky, University of Colorado at Boulder).
 

Using this system we have evaluated how students in both traditional and CLUE curricula understand a range of chemical ideas and phenomena. For example, we have shown that both CLUE and OCLUE students are more likely to construct causal mechanistic explanations for phenomena such as acid-base reactions, nucleophilic substitutions and how London dispersion forces arise.

Current research projects include investigations of how students learn to use mechanistic arrows to predict and explain reactions, how energy ideas are used across disciplines, how mechanistic reasoning emerges across disciplines, how students perceive expectations in transformed and traditional courses, how course expectations change over time.

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

 

Selected Publications

Arrows on the Page Are Not a Good Gauge: Evidence for the Importance of Causal Mechanistic Explanations about Nucleophilic Substitution in Organic Chemistry, Crandell, O.M.; Lockhart, M.A.; Cooper, M.M., J. Chem. Educ. 2020, 97 (2), 313–327. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b00815.

Organic Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything (OCLUE): A Transformed Organic Chemistry Curriculum, Cooper, M.M.; Stowe, R.L.; Crandell, O.M.; Klymkowsky, M.W., J. Chem. Educ. 2019, 96 (9), 1858–1872. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b00401. ACS Editors Choice

Investigating Student Understanding of London Dispersion Forces: A Longitudinal Study, Noyes, K.; Cooper, M.M., J. Chem. Educ. 2019, 96 (9), 1821–1832. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b00455.

Assessment in Chemistry Education, Stowe, R.L.; Cooper, M.M., Isr. J. Chem. 2019, 59, 598 – 607. https://doi.org/10.1002/ijch.201900024.

Chemistry Education Research—From Personal Empiricism to Evidence, Theory, and Informed Practice, Cooper, M.M.; Stowe, R.L., Chem. Rev. 2018, 118 (12), 6053–6087. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.chemrev.8b00020 ACS Editors Choice

Evaluating the Extent of a Large-Scale Transformation in Gateway Science Courses, Matz, R.L.; Fata-Hartley, C.L.; Posey, L.A.; Laverty, J.T.; Underwood, S.M.; Carmel, J.H.; Herrington, D.G.; Stowe, R.L.; Caballero, M.D.; Ebert-May, D.; Cooper, M.M., Sci. Advances 2018, 4 (10), eaau0554. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aau0554.

CV

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

Honorary Doctor of Science, 2016, Univ. of South Florida

Fellow, 2017, Royal Society of Chemistry

Awards/Honors

2015 Best Technology Enchancement Award of Excellence
2014 Achievement in Research for the Teaching and Learning of Chemistry. ACS
2013 James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Teaching of Chemistry
2013 MSU Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education