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Clemson chemists present revolutionary teaching concepts

CLEMSON Clemson University researchers want to strengthen chemistry skills starting at the molecular level and are introducing revolutionary ways for high school- and college-level educators to do that for students.

Clemson chemistry professors Melanie Cooper and Gautam Bhattacharyya, along with Michael W. Klymkowsky, a professor in the department of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, will introduce their research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago on Sunday, Feb. 15.

Cooper and Klymkowsky were awarded a National Science Foundation grant of $500,000 for a three-year project to develop Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything (CLUE), a new general chemistry curriculum that will use the emergence and evolution of life as the scaffold and context for introduction of chemistry concepts.

"Chemistry is a fascinating science, but one with a public relations problem. In part, this is due to the way traditional chemistry courses are taught," said Cooper. "We are also aware that the majority of students taking chemistry are not destined to become chemists. There is a need to provide a context for the materials presented if we expect students to become engaged in their learning. We will use research findings on how students learn to develop ways to assess and improve students' problem-solving abilities and strategies.

"Right now we are seeing students who may be able to perform well on traditional tests, but who do not have a deep understanding of fundamental chemistry principles," she said. "This does not prepare them well for further study either in chemistry or in other areas, such as biological sciences. It means that they are not well-prepared to understand how evolution works at the molecular level."

"The ability to understand evolutionary pathways and ideas at the molecular level is a new concept in teaching chemistry," said Bhattacharyya, who will evaluate the research project and will assess the effects of the curriculum and how to present it to schools large and small.

The researchers say the majority of chemistry courses are mired in content that has not changed in years and was designed for students who go on to major in chemistry, rather than attempting to reach students who are taking chemistry to help them understand their studies in other areas.

"We would like huge, expensive chemistry books to become obsolete," said Cooper. "Our text will be quite different than those on the market now. It is written in an engaging style that has a logical flow. Students will interact directly with web-based materials that promote skills such as problem-solving and investigations of difficult concepts. All of the materials we develop will be based on our research on effective teaching and learning."


Contact: Melanie Cooper
Clemson University

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