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Chemical Education Research

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.

Dr. Minjung Ryu’s group addresses research problems around diversity and equity in chemistry education and more broadly in STEM education in various learning settings (e.g., K-12 science classes, afterschool, college chemistry classes and labs). Their research goal is to understand the learning and participation of underserved learners and design and provide equitable learning environments that pursue transformative learning experiences. Dr. Ryu’s NSF-AISL (Advancing Informal STEM Learning) grant supports to engage resettled refugee high school youth in the learning of climate change in an afterschool setting. This research has revealed how these teens’ classroom participation is shaped by their social identities and relationships with others, and, despite various social and cognitive challenges, they negotiated learning and participation by employing multilingual and multimodal means. Her NSF DRK12 (Discovery Research PreK-12) project engages high school science teachers who teach in linguistically superdiverse classroom settings with an aim to better support English learners of diverse backgrounds. In this project, her team strives to connect between research and practice by designing and providing practice-based professional learning experiences. In addition to these funded projects, her group conducts research on chemistry education of pre-service elementary teachers in the context of college chemistry courses, learning and participation of non-native English-speaking college STEM students, and examining and improving graduate teaching assistants’ chemistry laboratory teaching practices.

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. Mike 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.