Graphing as a Learning Tool in Chemistry

Authors: 

Pamela Mosley, Jennifer Nimtz, William Humes, Kristen Bieda, and Lynmarie Posey

Mathematics is integral to all scientific disciplines, but it often presents an immediate barrier to pursuing STEM degrees for students who place into non-credit-bearing remedial (NCBR) algebra courses. While the mathematics content itself presents a challenge, these students are also delayed in beginning science studies at the university level. Michigan State University’s Dow STEM Scholars program seeks to support STEM students who place into NCBR by providing a summer mathematics course and first-semester chemistry bridge course, Explorations in Chemistry (CEM 121), as they continue to build the mathematics background required for general chemistry. In the pilot offering of CEM 121 in Fall 2015, we found that many students have difficulty applying ratios and proportional reasoning in a chemistry context. In addition to being an important tool for representing scientific data, graphs provide another way for students to make meaning of mathematical relationships. In Fall 2016, we developed several mathematics interventions for CEM 121 that use graphical representations to address ratios and proportional reasoning in activities on interpreting mathematical functions in chemistry, unit conversions, and reaction stoichiometry calculations based on balanced chemical equations. Examples of these interventions will be discussed.

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