Carmel Research Group


Project 1: Assessing Scientific Practices in The Chemistry Laboratory

Recent calls for science education reform have consistently highlighted the importance of engaging students in the practice of science for both the development of a scientific workforce and a scientifically literate citizenry. The Framework for K-12 Education and the Next Generation Science Standards identify a set of eight practices considered essential for learning science, and emphasize that students’ understanding of the practices of science and engineering is as important to understanding science as knowledge of its content. While the Framework focuses on K-12 education, we argue that these same practices are relevant to science education at all levels, and that the laboratory is the ideal place for students to engage with and learn about these practices. However, it has yet to be studied whether engagement in the practices has any effect student learning outcomes. One reason for this is the absence of appropriate assessment items that can provide evidence of the ways that students engage with the practices, and how this may change over time.

There are two major goals of this project: The first goal is to develop assessment items, focusing on three practices: (1) Planning and carrying out investigations; (2) Analyzing and interpreting data; and (3) Constructing explanations/engaging in argument from evidence. These assessment items will be developed using an iterative process, which includes identifying the key elements of each practice that can be assessed, developing tasks and scoring rubrics, and establishing validity, reliability, and practicality. Items will be reviewed initially by our advisory board, members of which have extensive expertise in both laboratory instruction and instrument development, tested with students using think aloud interviews, and revised as necessary. The second goal is to use the assessment items in two different laboratory environments (one transformed and one traditional) to answer the research question: How does engagement with the practices in the laboratory environment affect students’ use of scientific practices?

Preliminary example of assessment task:

Project 2: Identity as a Scientist

There have been many factors reported to influence success in college level chemistry, such as race, ethnicity, SAT scores, previous science performance, and high school chemistry classroom experience. All of the significant predictors of success described, while student centric, neglect the affective domain; they are environmental or demographic, but fail to take into account how the student feels about chemistry.  Other studies incorporating the affective domain, in particular about students’ identity and sense of how science relates to their lives showed that students of different identities feel that science fits into their lives in different ways and how it can influence their career aspirations (Kozoll & Osborne, 2004; Aschbacher, Li, & Roth, 2010). Lave (1992) suggested that it is important to not only understand how students are interacting with the content, but also how science is related to who they are and how they have engaged with their community of practice. This suggestion has led to a sizable body of literature exists that reports the effect of gender, race, socioeconomic status, and location of school on students’ identities as scientists (Aschbacher, Li, & Roth, 2010; Brickhouse, Lowery, & Shultz, 2000; Carlone & Johnson, 2007; Gilbert & Yarrick, 2001; Hughes, 2001; Hurtado et al., 2009; Olitsky, 2007; Hazari, Sadler, & Sonnert, 2013). Work  in physics has shown that the physics identities of students and affects outcome expectations, career interest, and career choice (Hazari, Sonnert, Sadler, & Shanahan, 2010; Hazari, et al., 2013; Lock, Hazari, & Potvin, 2013), while research done with organic chemists presents a model on how professional identity affects their epistemic development (Bhattacharyya, 2008). What is lacking, however, is how identifying as a scientist or nonscientist affects chemistry outcomes.

While investigating students identities as scientists, it is also important to think about how their identity was formed through their communities of practice: the science classroom.  Investigating how a teacher’s identity can affect their classroom could give insight into how students’ identities are formed. Eick and Reed (2002) presented information on how individual learning histories influenced the inquiry orientation of science teachers. Preparing teachers to use inquiry-based practices fits well with the constructivist learning theory and helps to promote teaching science in the way science is done (Mintzes, Wandersee, & Novak, 1997; National Research Council, 1996).   However, if a student teacher does not ascribe to the idea of inquiry teaching as a learning orientation, the benefits of the inquiry will not be effectively delivered to their students (Eick & Reed, 2002).


Project 3: Effect of Laboratory Curriculum on Identity as a Scientist

To tie the two projects together, I plan to investigate the effect of the laboratory curriculum on students’ identity as a scientist.  If students are taking science laboratory courses, particularly in chemistry, to develop their skills as scientist, it begs the question whether engaging in the skills and practices of scientists influences their individual identity as a scientist.