DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Crystal Medlin
Orange County, NC
Cedar Ridge HS



DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

A Pedagogical Study:  Analyzing Student’s Approach to Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking in the Chemistry Classroom

Central research question:

How do students approach the critical-thinking process while solving conceptual word problems in chemistry?




Using the University of Southern Australia's model of critical thinking, I studied critical thinking as a series of 5 major processes:  Inform & Describe, Discover & Explore, Negotiate & Cooperate, Test & Revise, and Integrate & Apply.  I think these are all very important and necessary steps in applying critical thinking to any kind of problem solving.  However, I have chosen to focus on how students apply these processes to problems in chemistry.


Research Questions

  • What kind of thinking are students doing in chemistry?

  • How do student approach chemistry problems?

  • Do students understand what critical thinking is?

  • How are they applying critical thinking to these problems?

Supporting Questions

  • What happens as students begin “unpacking”/”decoding” a conceptual word problem that challenges them to understand the deeper meaning(s)?
  • Why do some students have difficulty interpreting word problems conceptually, but seem to learn procedures with less difficulty? How is their conceptual thinking different than their formulaic thinking?
  • How is my teaching approach helpful/harmful in teaching critical thinking?
  • How do I lead students to become more independent thinkers?
  • What exercises help students know “where to begin” with a word problem that they’re seeing for the first time?


Students struggle in chemistry in their ability to apply previous knowledge, or new information to conceptual word problems.  Many times, the students try to apply the wrong set of steps to a new problem, from one that they have seen before.  Other times, students simply don’t know where to begin with a word problem that is newly worded or presented in a slightly different way. 


I am interested in finding out more about the general manner in which students approach word problems that require critical thinking.  In finding out more about how they approach conceptual chemistry problems, I hope to gain insight as how to help students become better critical thinkers. 


Additionally, by changing my teaching methods, I hope to improve student’s confidence in approaching word problems in other disciplines.


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DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

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DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.