Developing, Testing, and Disseminating Reasoning Chain Construction Tools for Introductory Physics and Chemistry Courses

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project seeks to serve the national interest by developing tools to better understand and improve college students' reasoning skills in the context of chemistry and physics courses. Despite decades of work aimed at improving students' science learning by developing and implementing research-based instructional materials, emerging evidence suggests that students who demonstrate correct conceptual understanding and reasoning on one task often fail to reason productively on analogous tasks that require the same knowledge and skills. The persistence of such reasoning difficulties after instruction is concerning since the development of reasoning skills is possibly one of the most important outcomes of college instruction in the physical sciences. However, many existing research-based assessments for physics and chemistry do not provide sufficient insight into student reasoning approaches because they were not designed to disentangle reasoning from conceptual understanding. This project seeks to address this challenge by developing and disseminating online reasoning chain construction assessment (ORCCA) tools and instructor guides designed to be incorporated into college-level physics and chemistry courses. The project team will also use the assessment tools developed to conduct research to better understand student reasoning about chemistry and physics.

In this project, a research team from four institutions (North Dakota State University, University of Maine, Penn State University - Greater Allegheny, and University of North Florida) will examine and seek to improve student reasoning by developing online reasoning chain construction assessment (ORCCA) tools for physics and chemistry courses. Drawing upon dual-process theories of reasoning, researchers have found that reasoning inconsistencies often stem from the interplay between human reasoning tendencies and relevant discipline-specific knowledge and skills. Online reasoning chain construction assessment tools present students with reasoning elements, i.e., statements about the physical situation as well as related concepts and mathematical relationships, and prompt the students to assemble them into an argument to answer a target question that often elicits incorrect intuitive responses. This project will focus on introductory physics, general chemistry, and organic chemistry courses, and will: (1) develop, refine, and disseminate ORCCA tools; (2) develop, refine, and disseminate screening-target question pairs that provide measures of both disciplinary knowledge and the reasoning skills necessary to apply that knowledge consistently; (3) generate cross-disciplinary knowledge about student reasoning; and (4) develop instructor guides for the use of ORCCA tools and screening-target pairs for both assessment and instruction. The project will employ a mixed-methods sequential exploratory design, leveraging both qualitative and quantitative analyses, and will draw upon a variety of experimental techniques and frameworks from cognitive science. Dissemination will include publications of results in scientific journals, workshops at national meetings, online access to assessment tools and instructor resources, and individualized support for pilot sites in implementing ORCCAs. The NSF IUSE: EHR Program supports research and development projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM education for all students. Through the Engaged Student Learning track, the program supports the creation, exploration, and implementation of promising practices and tools.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date11/1/2210/31/27


  • National Science Foundation: $137,791.00


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