Heuristic reasoning in chemistry: Making decisions about acid strength

LaKeisha McClary, Vicente A Talanquer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

36 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The characterization of students' reasoning strategies is of central importance in the development of instructional strategies that foster meaningful learning. In particular, the identification of shortcut reasoning procedures (heuristics) used by students to reduce cognitive load can help us devise strategies to facilitate the development of more analytical ways of thinking. The central goal of this qualitative study was thus to investigate heuristic reasoning as used by organic chemistry college students, focusing our attention on their ability to predict the relative acid strength of chemical compounds represented using explicit composition and structural features (i.e., structural formulas). Our results indicated that many study participants relied heavily on one or more of the following heuristics to make most of their decisions: reduction, representativeness, and lexicographic. Despite having visual access to reach structural information about the substances included in each ranking task, many students relied on isolated composition features to make their decisions. However, the specific characteristics of the tasks seemed to trigger heuristic reasoning in different ways. Although the use of heuristics allowed students to simplify some components of the ranking tasks and generate correct responses, it often led them astray. Very few study participants predicted the correct trends based on scientifically acceptable arguments. Our results suggest the need for instructional interventions that explicitly develop college chemistry students' abilities to monitor their thinking and evaluate the effectiveness of analytical versus heuristic reasoning strategies in different contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1433-1454
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Volume33
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2011

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heuristics
chemistry
decision making
student
ranking
ability
trend
learning

Keywords

  • Acid-base chemistry
  • Chemistry education
  • College education
  • Heuristics
  • Intuitive thinking
  • Reasoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

Cite this

Heuristic reasoning in chemistry : Making decisions about acid strength. / McClary, LaKeisha; Talanquer, Vicente A.

In: International Journal of Science Education, Vol. 33, No. 10, 07.2011, p. 1433-1454.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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