Investigating students' similarity judgments in organic chemistry
Organic chemistry is possibly the most visual science of all chemistry disciplines. The process of scientific inquiry in organic chemistry relies on external representations, such as Lewis structures, mechanisms, and electron arrows. Information about chemical properties or driving forces of mechanistic steps is not available through direct perception, and thus looking beyond the respresentation is challenging for learners. In this study, we investigated the categorization behavior of undergraduate students enrolled in an organic chemistry course when engaged in various categorization tasks involving electrophilic addition reactions to alkenes. The critical attribute a student chose to make a category out of a set of reactions was classified as perceptual or relational and gave insights into how students process and store information about reactions at an early level of expertise. Our results support the notion that students are prone to the surface level of representations and make sense of reactions depicted in a very minimalistic fashion. Implications for approaching this phenomenon in teaching are discussed.