Constructive Chemistry

One of the most effective pedagogies in science education is to challenge students to design and construct something that performs a function, solves a problem or proves a hypothesis. Learning by design is a compelling way of engaging students. Students can design computer models that work in cyberspace to learn science content. We will collaborate with Bowling Green State University and Dakota County Technical College to pilot test the idea of "Constructive Chemistry" of challenging college students to design their own molecular simulations and learn chemistry from such practices.

We are collaborating with Bowling Green State University and Dakota County Technical College to develop and examine a technology-based pedagogy that challenges students to create their own molecular simulations covering a wide variety of basic concepts in general chemistry, physical chemistry, biochemistry and nanotechnology. The curriculum materials, called "Constructive Chemistry," are based on our Molecular Workbench, which provides the graphical user interfaces for authoring visually compelling and scientifically accurate interactive simulations. Each instructional unit poses one or more problems that can be solved using molecular simulations and their analytic tools. For example, students are investigating why average kinetic energy, rather than average speed, of molecules provides a microscopic interpretation of temperature. They are discovering deviations from the Ideal Gas Law as a function of the properties of the constituent gas molecules. They are designing a molecular sieve, a fuel cell and a nanofabrication procedure. A scaffolded process enables students to learn modeling skills while also building and deepening their understanding of the basic chemistry concepts.

For background on this project read Constructive Chemistry: A Case Study of Gas Laws.

Principal Investigator

Charles Xie

Project Inquiries

qxie@concord.org

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Constructive Chemistry Screen Shot

Three approaches of using chemistry simulations.

National Science Foundation (NSF) Logo

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DUE-1245356. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Based on preliminary research at Bowling Green State University, the goal of this research is to determine how the proposed "Constructive Chemistry" curriculum can be used in diverse settings to achieve greater success. The research questions are:

  • Do students learn the science content with the units?
  • Do students learn modeling skills?
  • Is there any correlation between science learning and modeling skills?
  • What aspects of the constructive curriculum are most effective?
  • What implementation factors affect student learning?
  • What are teachers' and students' attitudes toward constructing models to solve problems?

This project will develop problem-based "Constructive Chemistry" curriculum materials using Molecular Workbench as the modeling tool. A set of learning units will be created, each covering a cluster of basic concepts in general chemistry, physical chemistry, biochemistry and nanotechnology. In addition, a variety of modeling projects will be devised for students to undertake as homework. All the materials will be field tested and then revised based on classroom feedback. A teacher's guide will be provided for each unit.

SubjectsCurriculum Units
General Chemistry/ Physical ChemistryBuilding your first molecular dynamics simulation; Exploring intermolecular forces; Energy in molecular systems; Chemical equilibrium and entropy in molecular systems; What does temperature measure? Discover Avogadro's Law; Under what conditions does the Ideal Gas Law apply? Colligative properties (vapor pressure lowering).
BiochemistryBuilding your first MD simulation; Exploring intermolecular forces; Energy in molecular systems; Chemical equilibrium and entropy in molecular systems; Osmosis and osmotic pressure; Protein folding; Enzyme active sites.
NanotechnologyBuilding your first molecular dynamics simulation; Exploring intermolecular forces; Energy in molecular systems; Electrostatic self-assembly; Nanomachines.

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