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Teaching chemistry using guided discovery and an interactive computer tool

Samia A Khan, University of Massachusetts Amherst


An initial test of scientific inquiry skills revealed that students enrolled in a computer enhanced introductory college chemistry class using a guided discovery approach produced significantly larger gains after class instruction compared with two other introductory chemistry classes at the same institution and three introductory science classes at two other college institutions. The purpose of this study was to analyze the instructional strategy in this class to understand how it may have contributed to gains in inquiry skills. Classroom observations of the computer enhanced guided discovery class and two other lecture based chemistry classes, uncovered a pattern of instruction in the guided discovery case that was markedly different from the other two classes, yet more similar to model construction processes of scientists. The central pattern of instruction in the primary case was referred to as the guided discovery approach and was characterized by instructional strategies designed to trigger generate, evaluate, and modify or GEM cycles, other teacher guidance strategies, and the integration of an interactive computer tool. Analysis of classroom observation data and student surveys confirmed a higher frequency of students' generating ideas about chemistry, constructing explanations, and quantitative problem solving in the guided discovery case than the lecture-based classes and a higher rate of teacher requests for students to engage in several of these processes. Small group observations revealed students' reasoning processes as they interacted with their teacher and the computer during instruction. Overall, compared with more traditional forms of chemistry instruction, the evidence suggests that the instructional strategies in the guided discovery case were successful in sustaining student engagement with several fundamental processes of scientific inquiry and may have led to the development of important inquiry skills. The guided discovery case used classroom activities that included finding trends, evaluating extreme cases, using incremental values, making comparisons, asking why, providing discrepant information, designing new tests, working back from the data, and thinking of an individual molecule, as several different strategies to foster inquiry. Rich descriptions of such instructional strategies may offer prescriptive methods for teachers to foster these processes in their classrooms and may represent a promising model for inquiry based instruction.

Subject Area

Science education|Educational software

Recommended Citation

Khan, Samia A, "Teaching chemistry using guided discovery and an interactive computer tool" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3068574.