Developing problem-solving skills in physical chemistry

Elizabeth Yuriev, Sabrina Basal, Kimberly Vo

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


Developing problem-solving skills by chemistry students and teaching of these skills by instructors are two of the recognised challenges of chemistry education (Herron, 1996b). There is extensive chemical education literature dealing with the nature of associated difficulties and instructional approaches to address these difficulties. One of the main difficulties experienced by students, when solving chemistry problems, stems from the lack of process skills. To tackle this challenge, we have developed and evaluated the problem-solving workflow “Goldilocks Help”. It provides specific scaffolding for students faced with procedural difficulties when solving chemistry problems. We have implemented it into the teaching of physical chemistry in a holistic manner where teaching, practice, and assessment are constructively aligned. The evaluation of the workflow showed that it was associated with the shift in students’ beliefs in their abilities to use productive self-regulation strategies in problem solving: planning, information management, monitoring, debugging, and evaluation. In fact, many students could effectively regulate their problem solving though planning and analysis. Analysis of student work showed that students who demonstrated more expertise by engaging in structured problem solving and explicit reasoning were more successful in their problem-solving attempts. However, contrary to their stated values, they were not as effective in employing monitoring, debugging, and evaluation. We propose that it is important to constructively align teaching and learning activities with assessment that explicitly encourages students to engage in demonstrating their reasoning during problem-solving, as well as other reflective and evaluative practices.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTeaching Chemistry in Higher Education
Subtitle of host publicationA Festschrift in Honour of Professor Tina Overton
EditorsMichael K Seery, Claire McDonnell
PublisherCreathach Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9780992823313
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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