Capturing student conceptions of thermodynamics and kinetics using writing
Thermodynamics and kinetics are key topics in the chemistry curriculum that pose challenges to students across a range of educational levels. These struggles arise from the complexity and mixed representations inherent to the topics. Additionally, while thermodynamics and kinetics are related, students struggle to make conceptually correct connections, sometimes seeing them as two separate topics with no relation and other times conflating their meanings and explanatory powers. Herein we captured student conceptions about thermodynamics and kinetics through a Writing-to-Learn activity that utilized peer review and revision to engage students with the concepts by applying them to a real-world context. This study identified whether students focused on the concepts targeted by the assignment and characterized the chemistry content of the peer review feedback. Students’ descriptions of thermodynamics and kinetics content, as well as the relationship between the two and how they connect to the application given in the assignment, improved during the process and suggests that peer review and revision played an important role in supporting students to describe these concepts. When guided by a content-focused peer review rubric, students provided constructive chemistry content-directed feedback. Specifically, analysis of student writing and comments demonstrated the potential of the assignment to engage students in building connections between complexly related topics, including distinguishing between sponteneity and rate and appropriately relating activation energy and rate. Findings from this study suggest that writing can be used to elicit student-specific conceptions of physical chemistry topics and develop students’ explanatory skills of chemistry content even without direct instructor feedback.