Emergence, Learning Difficulties, and Misconceptions in Chemistry Undergraduate Students' Conceptualizations of Acid Strength


TÜMAY H.

SCIENCE & EDUCATION, vol.25, pp.21-46, 2016 (Journal Indexed in SCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 25
  • Publication Date: 2016
  • Doi Number: 10.1007/s11191-015-9799-x
  • Title of Journal : SCIENCE & EDUCATION
  • Page Numbers: pp.21-46

Abstract

Philosophical debates about chemistry have clarified that the issue of emergence plays a critical role in the epistemology and ontology of chemistry. In this article, it is argued that the issue of emergence has also significant implications for understanding learning difficulties and finding ways of addressing them in chemistry. Particularly, it is argued that many misconceptions in chemistry may derive from students' failure to consider emergence in a systemic manner by taking into account all relevant factors in conjunction. Based on this argument, undergraduate students' conceptions of acids, and acid strength (an emergent chemical property) were investigated and it was examined whether or not they conceptualized acid strength as an emergent chemical property. The participants were 41 third- and fourth-year undergraduate students. A concept test and semi-structured interviews were used to probe students' conceptualizations and reasoning about acid strength. Findings of the study revealed that the majority of the undergraduate students did not conceptualize acid strength as an emergent property that arises from interactions among multiple factors. They generally focused on a single factor to predict and explain acid strength, and their faulty responses stemmed from their failure to recognize and consider all factors that affect acid strength. Based on these findings and insights from philosophy of chemistry, promoting system thinking and epistemologically sound argumentative discourses among students is suggested for meaningful chemical education.