Students’ Ideas about How and Why Chemical Reactions Happen: Mapping the conceptual landscape

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38 Scopus citations


Research in science education has revealed that many students struggle to understand chemical reactions. Improving teaching and learning about chemical processes demands that we develop a clearer understanding of student reasoning in this area and of how this reasoning evolves with training in the domain. Thus, we have carried out a qualitative study to explore students reasoning about chemical causality and mechanism. Study participants included individuals at different educational levels, from college to graduate school. We identified diverse conceptual modes expressed by students when engaged in the analysis of different types of reactions. Main findings indicate that student reasoning about chemical reactions is influenced by the nature of the process. More advanced students tended to express conceptual modes that were more normative and had more explanatory power, but major conceptual difficulties persisted in their reasoning. The results of our study are relevant to educators interested in conceptual development, learning progressions, and assessment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3066-3092
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number18
StatePublished - Dec 12 2015


  • Chemistry education
  • Conceptual development
  • Qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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