Available Chemistry Education research projects:

Molecular representations in chemistry and biology

Contact: Paulien Postma and Gjalt Prins

On school level, molecular concepts such as molecules, proteins, genes and cells are (often) taught in separate subjects. Hardly ever are these concepts connected when for example explaining (sub)cellular processes such as fotosynthesis, dissimilation or biosynthesis. As a result, secondary science education students end up with a collection of isolated facts about molecules and cells but are left on their own filling in the ‘black box’:  explaining how cellular activities are actually the result of the joint activity of various molecules in the cell.

This may in part be due to by the use of different kind of representations (pictures, models, graphs and animations) in biology and chemistry class. It is questionable if these representations stimulate conceptual interplay when reasoning about the role of molecules in cellular processes. For example, it is expected that students do not link the chemical properties of proteins (learned in chemistry class) to the binding and activation of enzyme-substrate complexes (learned in biology class).

In the proposed project you will research what type of representations are frequently used in biology and chemistry textbooks, what they try to explain and what kind of reasoning these representations evoke among students when asked to explain cellular processes from a molecular perspective. The results of this research could inform the design of a learning- and teaching process aimed to achieve conceptual interplay between chemistry and biology concepts in students’ reasoning  about molecular processes in the cell.

Students’ learning of molecular modelling in pre-academic chemistry education

Contact: Gjalt Prins

Molecular Modeling is one of the fastest growing fields in science. It may vary from building and visualizing simple molecules (in 3-Dimensions) to performing complex computer simulations on large protein molecules. Using various molecular modeling software, one can visualize, rotate, manipulate, and optimize models on a computer display. Molecular Modelling is used, for instance, for designing drugs and new materials. In secondary chemistry education students should become acquainted with and gain insights in the technique of Molecular Modelling. This urges for high quality teaching materials in which students are meaningfully engaged in molecular modelling. In our institute an innovative curriculum unit has been developed, in which students perform a lead optimalisation for designing a new drug against the malaria disease. The authentic practice of drug design is used as a context for learning. The designed curriculum unit, however, is only tested once among students grade 11. The results were positive, although it became apparent that the unit needs a thorough revision and a second try-out using the method of educational design research.

Dori, Y. J., & Kaberman, Z. (2012). Assessing high school chemistry students' modeling sub-skills in a computerized molecular modeling learning environment. Instructional Science, 40(1), 69-91. doi: 10.1007/s11251-011-9172-7.

Prins, G. T., Bulte, A. M. W., Driel, van J. H., & Pilot, A. (2009). Students' involvement in authentic modelling practices as context in chemistry education. Research in Science Education, 39, 681-700. doi: 10.1007/s11165-008-9099-4.