Chemical Education

looking through a microscope in a laboratory
Chemical education development and research work is carried out by UIC faculty working on our own undergraduate curriculum and in work that studies and supports K-12 education. Areas of interest include spatial reasoning, interdisciplinary teaching, inquiry in laboratory and lecture instruction, and the use of technology in instruction. In many cases the work overlaps with learning sciences research, which extends questions of chemical education research into studies of how chemistry instruction occurs in specific learning environments.

The work of Donald Wink has included development of NSF-supported materials in math and chemistry that led to a ‘math-aware’ preparatory chemistry textbook (The Practice of Chemistry) and a project-based laboratory manual (Working with Chemistry). He also works in conjunction with other UIC natural science and education faculty on natural science courses for students in UIC’s Urban Education program. Wink’s work in K-12 includes work on two NSF GK-12 grants, in which UIC graduate students from a variety of STEM fields supported several STEM projects in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) sites during the school day. This became a basis for a joint project with Loyola University Chicago to provide comprehensive curriculum and professional development as part of CPS’s High School Transformation initiative. This has led to the formation of them ongoing Chicago Transformation Teacher Institutes, an NSF Math Science Partnership grant that joins five Chicago area universities (UIC, DePaul, Loyola, IIT, and Northwestern). In addition to these practice- and research-focused efforts, he has used his training in chemistry and his experience in learning sciences and education to carry out several more studies on how learning in chemistry intersects with ideas from other fields, including on transformative learning, relevance, constructivism, inquiry, and the logic of mathematics.

Dr. Stieff’s lab conducts research on spatial thinking in chemistry and the design of visualizations for supporting chemistry learning. With funding from the U.S. Department of Education, he has developed The Connected Chemistry Curriculum, a self-contained high school curriculum, which teaches chemistry using computer visualizations. Currently, the curriculum is employed by teachers throughout the United States, South Africa, Germany, Brazil, and Argentina. His work on spatial thinking in chemistry has yielded critical insights into scientific problem solving strategies and alternative pedagogies for teaching spatial problem solving in undergraduate chemistry. Importantly, this work has revealed that men and women apply different strategies for spatial problem solving in science and that alternative instructional approaches differentially impact the performance of men and women in the classroom. Additionally, Stieff’s lab makes use of eye-tracking and head-tracking technologies to support spatial reasoning and chemistry learning and is currently exploring new interface designs that allow learners to embodied spatial relationships embedded in scientific models.