Stories of exciting chemistry discoveries in Scientific American and The New York Times paint a better picture of chemistry as it is practiced than do some widely used high school textbooks, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. The findings signal that introductory textbooks could be shortchanging students, denying them exposure to the creativity of chemistry and omitting context they need to be scientifically literate citizens, according to the authors, whose results are in press at the Journal of Chemical Education.
"High school textbooks focus on teaching a set of basic tools that chemists use, but they often fail to address how those tools are used by practicing chemists," said David Yaron, associate professor of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon. "Because of this misalignment, students may leave an introductory chemistry course without a practical perspective on the field of chemistry. If one of our goals is to educate scientifically literate people who can read Scientific American and the science section of The New York Times, then we are not giving them the tools they need. We may also be missing chances to attract talented students to this important field."
Yaron and his collaborator, Gaea Leinhardt, senior scientist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center, initially set out to develop online teaching tools for the full range of introductory chemistry courses. But when they reviewed state content standards, concepts used in Nobel laureates’ prize work in chemistry and articles in the science press, they found something unexpected: These sources presented activities that weren’t described by the California State Content Standards for Chemistry. This significant misalignment prompted Leinhardt, Yaron and their research group, Karen Evans and Michael Karabinos, to develop a testable framework that describes activities in which chemists routinely engage. They determined that chemists explain phenomena, analyze matter to determine its chemical makeup and synthesize new substances. Chemists also have a set of tools in their "toolbox" that they use to develop explanations, conduct analyses or direct syntheses.
Lauren Ward | EurekAlert!
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