Running projects

Translation of Chemical Representations

Developing a Model of Factors Influencing Translation Performance

Chemical processes can largely be explained at the molecular level only and are therefore not directly observable. Consequently, external representations are essential to describe and explain phenomena, contexts and processes, and to make them available for a scientific discourse. For chemistry, symbolic and particulate representations of chemical facts are the predominant forms of representation when it comes to the exploring or communication of content. In addition, with the increasing technical possibilities, three-dimensional representations - static and animated - are also increasing in addition to two-dimensional representations. This makes it all more important that students are able to switch between different forms of representation. This ability of translation, i. e. the ability to translate different external representations into each other, is crucial for the development of a basic understanding of chemical phenomena and contexts.

 At the same time, this ability seems to play an important role in solving problems and is based, among other things, on cognitive flexibility, i. e. the ability to select a suitable representation for the situation in question. Cognitive flexibility is complicated by functional fixation, i. e. the sole assignment of one or very few characteristics or situations to an entity. Thus the representations remain isolated and only applicable to the respective situation. An application in a different situation than the original one is very rarely observed in class, and the factors that determine translation in detail have hardly been investigated to date.

This research project investigates quantitatively for secondary level II which cognitive factors are related to students' ability to translate and to what extent structural characteristics of representations determine the inter- and intra-representative translation distance.


Tina Grottke

Characterizing Problems in Chemistry

A phenomenographic research on generating hypothesis


 Perceiving and processing real-world information always takes place against a background of existing or acquired internal cognitive structures. These so-called "mental models" form the core insights into the understanding of processes and are the starting point for coping with problem situations. The project investigates by a qualitative experiment the structure of a situational mental model. For this purpose, chemical problems were presented as interactive videos to 18 upper secondary school students from three different grammar schools in Berlin. Each video shows a chemical phenomenon, and, in addition, chemical content knowledge as well as particulate and iconic representations to enable the understanding of the problem situation.

Based on a given question, the students were asked to prepare a concept map based and to generate a hypothesis. The concept map had two functions here. On the one hand, it should help students to visualize the problem and thus facilitate the generation of a hypothesis; on the other hand, the concept map serves to characterize the situational mental model. Subsequently, the students were asked about their individual approach by means of a guided  interview. The evaluation of the data is carried out in a mixed methods approach, in which a quantitative analysis is carried out in addition to a qualitative content analysis. Furthermore, a detailed questionnaire on co-variables was collected, allowing for a person-specific analysis of the data.

The goal is to characterize a "Situational mental Modeling Building Approach" (SIMBA), which postulates a structure driven from theory and allows its externalisation of the students cognitive system to be traced to a possible internal structure. Thus, targeted and supportive learning environments, facilitating the understanding of the problem situation, could be created in future. 


Katharina Nave


supported by "ProLEA" of Humboldt-University


Chemistry Teacher Education

Fundamentals for future intervention studies on improving the higher education of chemistry teacher students

High-quality learning opportunities are of great importance for the development of the individual, and our society as a whole. While the quality of informal learning opportunities is difficult to control, for formal settings like schools, the education of teachers is an important factor to ensure high-quality. Personality traits, such as motivation, beliefs and professional knowledge – as a superordinate cognitive trait – have a strong influence on the quality of teaching.

During the first phase of teacher training at German universities, students have to learn general pedagogical knowledge, domain specific knowledge and pedagogical-content knowledge as well as methodological competences in learning opportunities. These knowledge domains could be distinguished into the three areas of declarative, conditional and procedural knowledge. While the latter impart a higher influence on teacher’s actions in the classroom, declarative knowledge has a more indirect effect through lesson planning. However, initial results of our study show that the practical knowledge of teachers does not increase during their education (nor with experience); they rather accumulate declarative knowledge.

In this project, both the affective and cognitive traits of students are measured in a longitudinal study, and differences in trait distributions between the courses are used to generate hypotheses about underlying processes, and to make claims on what should be tackled in teacher education. 


Simon Schäfer

Inclusive  Chemistry Teaching and Problem Solving

A model fo inclusive chemistry teaching

The acquisition of scientific knowledge through problem solving offers the possibility to consider different requirements of an inclusive chemistry lesson. The research project is explicitly based on the original, broader concept of inclusion. The theoretical model derived from the theory takes into account a differentiation both, for lower achievers and for higher performers and, in addition to domain-specific characteristics, also takes up general criteria for teaching that is perceived as good. The architecture of the "model for inclusive chemistry teaching" (MiC) is designed in particular in such a way that teachers can derive concrete, planning-guiding assistance for teaching from it.

In order to test these two aspects, the "broad" inclusion and the instruction for teachers in everyday school life, an exemplary teaching unit will be designed and quantitatively tested with approx. 10 classes of the secondary level I. The teaching unit will be designed in accordance with the following guidelines. Among other aspects, situational questionnaires are used to record the perceived fit of the teaching offer with the individual performance of the individual pupils, supplemented by guideline-based interviews with teachers.                                                               


Joachim Kranz 

Critical Thinking in Higher Education

Fostering a 21st century skill in a graduated lab work course

 Critical thinking is actively reflecting upon one’s own experience and knowledge and searching for necessary information in the process of inquiry. Shifting science teaching from the rote-passive-learning to using critical thinking skills as a primary component in facilitating learning, is necessary for inquiry-based learning and for making reasoned argumentation in science. This study focuses on a physical chemistry undergraduate lab course and aimes at examining whether cognitive prompts in the context of CT enhance students’ CT-skills and CT-dispositions. Cognitive prompts were added to the original laboratory manual of the course. The qualitative study was conducted within a pre- and post-experimental design using the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CCTDI) and the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) as dependent variables.


Lilian Danial


funded by "SALSA Graduate School" of the German Science Foundation (DFG)


"MINT-Town" - Critical Thinking Trainings

Fostering critical thinking by a gamification approach

We develop and validate (in a quantitative study) a modern, game-oriented, digital learning environment (“MINT-Town”) to foster two of the 21st century skills - critical thinking and problem solving - in the context of STEM education. The embedded gamification elements (i.e. quests, dialogs, avatars) increase the students’ engagement to work on complex problems.

The game consists of two parts: 1) the tutorial, and 2) the chemical part.

In part one, the player is confronted with a general STEM oriented problem situation; he has time to learn the basic controls of the game and several critical thinking subskills while the questline leads him through the problem-solving process. 

In part two, the player has to transfer the acquired abilities to a specific chemical context. 

The tutorial’s part is done, and it will be validated by an expert rating soon; the chemical part is still under development.



Christian Dictus


founded by "Deutsche Telekom-Stiftung"

Cognitive Load of Experiments

Conducting a scientific investigation in Chemistry belongs to conceptual knowledge as well as to practical skills. The adequate use of chemicals, the correct assembly of flasks or the proper performing of a titration is not directly linked to meaningful learning. Following the cognitive load theory, these activities could be an important part of the extraneous load and reduce the capacity of the intrinsic load - necessary for learning the concept behind  the experiment.  This project compares   students´ conceptual understanding while conducting an experiment by themselves or only watching a video of an experiment of the same topic.


Angela Hohlstein

Collaborative problem solving in Chemistry

Collaboration is a complex skill that consists of multiple sub-skills. Proficient collaborative problem solving (CPS) skills are a necessary condition for success in universities and workplaces. Chemistry is an experiment-based discipline, which means that collaborative skills are the key to solving problems. 

The project quantitatively examines the impact of covariables (such as cognition, motivation, etc.) on CPS skills, and to what extent these variables can predict students' CPS skills. To avoid the difficulty of pen-and-paper tests in recording students' attitudes and communication processes in the real environment, a computer agent technology will be used to develop tasks in a chemical environment. A qualitative study will be carried out before designing the items, thus ensuring the standardization of the evaluation.


Yico Ying


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