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IES Grant

Title: Molecules & Minds: Developing Bridging Scaffolds to Improve Chemistry Learning
Center: NCER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: Milne, Catherine Awardee: New York University
Program: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,464,692
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A090203
Description:

Co-Principal Investigator(s): Jan Plass; Bruce Homer; Trace Jordan

Purpose: In high school chemistry classes, the ability to visualize dynamic sub-microscopic particles (atoms and molecules) is especially important because the behavior of such particles is used to explain macroscopic phenomena (e.g., ice melting). Under a previous IES Goal 2 Development grant (R305K050140), the researchers developed six simulations in four high school chemistry topics: kinetic molecular theory, diffusion, the behavior of ideal gases, and phase change. In the process of designing, developing, and testing these simulations, the researchers became increasingly aware of the need to provide additional instructional support to assist students with moving between different levels of representation. The current study will address this student need by designing, developing, and evaluating four types of scaffolds, one narrative and three visual, that will be embedded into four of the six previously developed simulations.

Project Activities: The researchers will develop four types of scaffolds, one narrative and three visual, to support students transitioning between levels of representations in four existing chemistry simulations—kinetic theory, diffusion, gas laws, and phase change. In addition, curricular materials will be developed to integrate each simulation and scaffold into existing chemistry curricula. These goals will be accomplished through design partnerships that involve science teachers, science education researchers, cognitive psychologists, and educational technologists. The researchers will use data collected from students and classroom observations to refine the scaffolds and simulation designs and optimize their usability and feasibility with existing chemistry curricula.

Products: The products of this project will be four fully developed scaffolded chemistry simulations, corresponding curricular materials, and published reports.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The setting for this study includes urban public high schools in New York.

Population: Three chemistry classes from four public high schools in New York will participate in the study. The participating high schools are diverse along racial and ethnic lines, with the student population being approximately 7% White, 45% Black, 42% Hispanic, and 5% Asian, Pacific Islanders, Alaskan Natives, and Native Americans. Approximately 51% of students are eligible for free and reduced price lunch.

Intervention: The researchers will develop four types of scaffolds, one narrative and three visual, which will be embedded into four of the six simulations developed under a previous IES Goal 2 Development grant. The researchers selected the four simulations (kinetic theory, diffusion, gas laws, and phase change) most directly associated with the New York State Core Curriculum in The Physical Sciences: Chemistry and the National Science Education Standards. The narrative scaffolds will contain a main character or protagonist who embodies values of curiosity, questioning, observation, and quantification that are central to scientific reasoning. The narratives will be framed in such a way that students using the simulation will be placed in the role of either helping the protagonist understand the conceptual area of the simulation or explaining the protagonist's understanding to a broader audience. Three types of visual scaffolds—observable/explanatory; within-simulation; and explanatory/symbolic—will be integrated into each simulation to support students in making specific connections between observable, explanatory, and symbolic forms of molecular representations. Curricular materials will be developed to integrate each simulation and scaffold into existing chemistry curricula.

Research Design and Methods: An iterative design approach will be used in which the scaffolds and simulations will be modified based on a series of development, testing, and revision cycles. Initial usability tests of the scaffolded simulations will be conducted with small groups of students in a laboratory setting. Participants will be asked to 'think aloud' while using the simulations, along with participating in semi-structured interviews. Students will be videotaped and computer logs will be collected. Students' prior knowledge, scientific graph comprehension, visual/spatial ability, and learning outcomes will also be assessed. The results from the laboratory studies will be used to inform the design of the scaffolds and redesign of the simulations. Next, the revised scaffolds and simulations will be pilot tested in typical high school chemistry classrooms. Classroom observations will be conducted along with semi-structured interviews with teachers. Computer logs, students' prior content knowledge, scientific graph comprehension, visual/spatial ability, and learning outcomes will also be assessed.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: Measures of process data to be collected from students include user actions recorded in log files, questions and answers recorded in classroom observations of simulation use, and think-aloud protocols. The Regents Chemistry Exam and simulation content-specific knowledge and general ability tests (e.g., Tests of Graphing Skills in Science, Tests of Spatial Ability) will be used to assess students' learning outcomes. Affective outcomes will be measured through questionnaires assessing students' attitudes toward chemistry, classroom observations of student engagement, and computer log file data capturing students' interactions with the simulations and scaffolds.

Data Analytic Strategy: Constant comparative data analysis will be used to analyze qualitative data, including data from the classroom observations (audio, video, and screen-capture data) and semi-structured interviews. To assess the promise of the intervention, analysis of covariance tests will be used to assess students' learning outcomes.

Related IES Projects: Molecules and Minds: Optimizing Simulations for Chemistry Education (R305K050140)

Products and Publications

Book

Plass, J.L., Moreno, R., and Brünken, R. (2010). Cognitive Load Theory.New York: Cambridge University Press.

Book chapter

Plass, J.L., and Schwartz, R.N. (2014). Multimedia Learning with Simulations and Microworlds.

Schwartz, R.N., Milne, C., Homer, B.D., and Plass, J.L. (2013). Designing and Implementing Effective Animations and Simulations for Chemistry Learning. Pedagogic Roles of Animations and Simulations in Chemistry Courses: ACS Symposium Series (pp. 43–76). American Chemical Society.


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