P1004: “Chemistry is all math!” — a frustrated chemistry student

Author: W. Cary Kilner, University of New Hampshire, USA


Date: 8/7/14

Time: 9:35 AM9:55 AM

Room: LTT 101

Related Symposium: S72

Evidence from my action-research study, the Chem-Math Project, suggests that the “math” that students (and instructors) inappropriately equate with chemistry is formal (abstract or symbolic) mathematics, beginning with prealgebra. The early mathematics used in chemistry consists of an array of elementary skills that must be reviewed and practiced and then combined with ratio/proportional reasoning. These two strands should be treated separately at first. Studies in mathematics education suggest that formal mathematics confuses a certain cohort of students who then come to fear “math.” If early arithmetic skills have not been thoroughly drilled and learned, such as the nature of fractions, this will also instill insecurity. The practice of moving all students through their mathematics courses at the same rate, regardless of acquired competence and understanding, means that some students are already intimidated by anything involving calculations before they arrive at chemistry. I contend that mastery learning of these early mathematics skills is necessary. Students passed through their early mathematics courses with grades of “C” will likely make mistakes and unnecessarily equate their subsequent confusion with “chemistry,” rather than with the mathematics skills where their problems actually lie. Instructors must provide drill and practice with these necessary skills to ensure their students can use them, and then move on to practice chemistry exercises, followed by authentic problem-solving using their acquired skills. The use of ratio-proportionality would most effectively be addressed as the central core of chemistry calculations as a separate thrust.

P530: Chem-math project recitation program

Author: W. Cary Kilner, University of New Hampshire, USA


Date: 8/5/14

Time: 3:05 PM3:25 PM

Room: MAN 122

Related Symposium: S15

In this action-research study, I developed a general chemistry recitation program that ran for five years. It served about 40% of the total lecture course or about 140 students in six 80-minute classes of 18-24 students each. The remaining students chose a PLTL study group. The first-semester recitations served identified and assigned underprepared freshmen from the life and health sciences as well as a small group of repeaters and upperclassmen steered to me by their professors. The focus was on reinforcement of fundamental mathematics skills scaffolded by application to chemistry. The second-semester recitations were voluntary and focused more upon problem-solving and critical thinking, using these acquired skills. In this talk, I will present an effective recitation structure that focuses on a student-centered pedagogical approach. It was developed to keep students actively and cooperatively engaged with little interruption from me other than general supervision. The exercises, problems, and activities in which students were engaged utilized the learning-cycle in a similar way to that of POGIL and were written specifically to reinforce our syllabus and lecture instruction. Brief readings and mini-lectures served to fill gaps in understanding in order to promote unhindered work on the materials at hand.