Students’ Meaning-Making of Physical Chemistry Concepts: A Resources Perspective

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Chemistry forms an integral part of undergraduate STEM education, and the literature demonstrates that students experience conceptual difficulties in understanding key ideas in the discipline. While some scholars have argued for an ontologically disconnected view of learning in which students’ intuitive ideas need to be discarded in order to learn key disciplinary ideas, in this dissertation, I built on views of learning as a gradual and continuous process of refining prior ideas (bootstrapping), known as the Knowledge-in-Pieces framework (diSessa, 1993; diSessa & Sherin, 1998). The research questions I sought to investigate through this study are: How do undergraduate students develop explanations of problems in chemistry during tutorial conversations? and How do they bring together and/or deal with the dissonance between different sets of resources, representational, linguistic, and intuitive? I report a study that was conducted with first year undergraduate students as they worked in small groups during tutorial sessions in a naturalistic manner. Tutorials are a common and yet understudied form of learning experience for chemistry students at the undergraduate level. This was a qualitative study that used audio-recordings of group conversations and students’ field notes as sources of data. The data was coded for resources using thematic analysis and the constant comparison method. This study sheds light on students’ use of heterogeneous resources that are representational (graphs, chemical equations, expressions), linguistic (colloquial and terminological language) and conceptual (p-prims, symbolic forms, graphical forms). Furthermore, my analysis also suggests that a distributed form of meaning-making supported students’ conceptual understanding, which included invoking diverse conceptual schemas, language use and different forms of representational work. Based on the findings, the implications for undergraduate chemistry education include supporting students by paying attention to the heterogeneity of their representational and conceptual resources and designing purposeful opportunities for the integration of these resources.
chemistry education, learning sciences
Bhola, S. (2021). Students’ meaning-making of physical chemistry concepts: a resources perspective (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from