Data-driven activity reform: employing design research to improve scaffolding and concept development
For six semesters, activities have been incorporated into first year general chemistry courses in an effort to build student conceptual chemistry knowledge. The activities follow a learning cycle pedagogy (similar to Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning or POGIL activities) and consist of guiding questions involving animations, models, simulations, or a data set and are completed by students working in groups. The efficacy of the learning cycle approach and learning outcomes from POGIL and other similar initiatives have been well studied; however, examining how scaffolding in chemistry learning cycles can improve learning outcomes has not been well studied. In Fall 2016, an activity was implemented in a first semester general chemistry course that focused on energy changes during bond breaking and bond making. The data showed that, even after working with the PhET Atomic Interactions simulation guided by the activity, about half of the students in the sample (N = 55) still thought bond-breaking was an exothermic process, even though they collected data from the simulation that indicated otherwise. After analyzing student answers, the activity was redesigned to increase scaffolding and improve concept development. Students’ performance improved greatly with the implementation of the second activity with 82% of students (N = 34) able to identify and distinguish between exothermic and endothermic processes. Results have implications for applying research-based techniques to activity development to improve students’ conceptual understanding in chemistry.