A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Investigating First Year Chemistry Students’ Ability to Visually Express Their Understanding of Chemistry Concepts

Hayden Dickson, Christopher David Thompson, Paddy O'Toole


This paper reports on research into understanding the ability of first year chemistry students to visually express their understanding of chemistry concepts. The aim was to gather data to inform the development and implementation of student-generated drawing questions into a first year university chemistry laboratory program; part of which involved the development of a criteria framework for assessing the drawings. The purpose of introducing drawing questions was to help diagnose alternative conceptions and improve conceptual understanding by engaging students’ at the macro, symbolic and submicro levels of representation. The need for such questions in the laboratory program was deemed necessary after a review of the existing questions highlighted that students were being asked to express their understanding of what they were learning in each class invariably at the macro and symbolic levels of representation, but not the submicro level. Investigating students’ ability to visually express chemistry concepts involved a review of the relevant chemistry education literature, student interviews and the collection of over three hundred student-generated drawings that were produced solely from the imagination of the participants.

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