P1005: Promoting formal thinking and mathematical reasoning in introductory chemistry
Student deficits in understanding how to apply mathematical processes can be a major barrier to success in the chemistry classroom, especially at the introductory level. This barrier may be explained for many students through Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. To appropriately apply mathematics to many abstract chemical concepts, students need to be at the formal operational stage. However, studies have shown that a significant portion of first-year college students are in the concrete operational or early in the transition to formal operational thought. In order to foster student success in chemistry and the sciences, activities in and out of the classroom may be utilized to aid in the transition to formal operational thought. An effort can be made to promote formal thinking in the classroom through considering design of lectures, activities, and questions which approach chemical concepts from multiple verbal and mathematical perspectives, emphasize estimation, and require students to justify responses to questions. These approaches necessitate a departure from the tendency of students to use (and the tendency of instructors to teach) a set of rules to follow for problem solving, which are frequently used as a crutch and hinder meaningful learning of chemical concepts for effective application. Strategies which may support critical thinking in chemistry and the application of mathematics in the classroom will be discussed, which may support the transition of students to formal operational thought.