Running projects

Switching Between Chemical Representations

Analyzing Students´ Translation Performance of Representations of the Molecular Level

External representations in chemistry are important to communicate, teach and understand chemical phenomena. Solving chemical problems (key competence to gain scientific literacy) indicates performing appropriately with chemical representations (Wu & Shah, 2004). Especially the molecular level is represented by various representations such as molecular models, chemical structures or symbols and is used in learning material (textbooks) to provide access to invisible processes (Hoffmann & Laszlo, 1999; Wu & Shah 2004). The ability to translate the various representations into each other seems to be an important part in gaining deeper understanding in chemical processes. Indeed, studies show difficulties in dealing with representations and thus in translating (chemical language, formulae, visualizations).

This research project aims to investigate students’ translation performance of molecular representations according to translation paths and possible predictors in a quantitative cross-sectional study: How well do students translate, molecular representations into each other? In which way do differences exist between translation and retranslation (e.g., translation of a symbolic representation into an iconic one vs. iconic representation into a symbolic one)? Which translation paths are more pretentious than others? By which person-variables, e.g. intelligence, is this translation performance correlated?

To reach this aim, an assessment tool is needed: A technology-based multiple-choice test was developed and validated in a think-aloud setting as well as in a quantitative pre-study. We will analyze the main study by Item-Response-Theory.


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


Collaborative problem solving in Chemistry

Development of a quantitative assessment tool

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

Supported by the China Scholarship



Simulation-based learning at university level

Fostering motivation and learning of chemistry  

Interactive simulations have well-documented benefits in the teaching and learning of chemistry, since they can problematize subject matter and facilitate connections between the submicroscopic, macroscopic, and mathematical levels of reasoning. While simulation-based activities are commonly designed, evaluated, and continuously improved in the context of secondary education, the chemistry curriculum in most German universities remains more “traditional” – that is, most new information is delivered through lecture, while discussion sessions usually consist in solving worksheets of questions. This format may not be suitable for the majority of students, as can be evidenced by high dropout and exam failure rates. This study evaluates the impact of simulation-based activities on the motivation and learning of chemistry students enrolled in general chemistry at our institution; by substituting some traditional problem-solving exercises with scaffolded activities based on interactive simulations, we hypothesize that students will demonstrate a higher degree of engagement and encounter more mastery experiences throughout the course, which may in turn influence their motivation to continue pursuing their studies. The evidence gathered from this study, which will evaluate both cognitive and affective outcomes of simulation-based activities, can guide future decisions about curricular changes that could better support students’ success at the university level.                                                             


Natalia Spitha

Supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

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)


Creative problem solving in chemistry education

Creativity and psychological preferences in problem solving

Creativity is one of the skills that will be very important for successful learning and working in the 21st century. Creative problem solving is already necessary today, for example, due to the pressure to innovate in numerous professional fields, and will continue to grow in importance for future, as yet unknown challenges. In the project a tool is developed at contents of the chemistry, in which different tasks for different abilities are offered. In this project, designed with about N=550 students (grade 10) in the Aptitude-Treatment-Interaction Design, divergent and convergent thinking is implemented by the students finding many different ideas for problems and solutions as well as improving given ones. Co-variables (e.g., hobbies, basic cognitive skills, interest in science) are used to identify influencing factors and predispositions on creative thinking. 

The tasks relate to two areas: Finding ideas and improving ideas. Both dimensions of creative thinking are investigated separately in a mixed-method approach. For example, the domain-specific level of creativity is determined using the Consentual Assessment Technique, and the richness of ideas is measured by the statistical frequency of individual word mentions.


Christian Kressmann



Model-eliciting activities in Chemistry  Education

A stimulating environment to think and learn in and with models

 It is a goal of good chemistry teaching to help students engage in meaningful learning so that they can gain a deeper understanding of chemical content and transfer their knowledge and skills to other contexts. The construction and use of mental models plays a central role in this process. They determine whether students can understand the problem, work through it in an active mental and real-world process, and ultimately solve it successfully. To practice this, learning environments must be designed to stimulate the construction of and active use of mental models. 

"Model-eliciting activities" (MEA's) have already been developed and successfully implemented in mathematics and technology education using many examples. They have been used to design open-ended, real-world problems that can be solved in groups of 3 to 4 students. The problems in the MEAs are designed to be relatively open-ended, but unlike traditional open-ended tasks, they focus much more on the solution path than on the solution itself. Students are encouraged to invent, test, and revise models that describe the problem situation and lead to a possible solution.

To externalize the mental models, this project uses a web-based environment (WebChem) that supports team-based editing of the problem and collaborative exchange. For example, students have to investigate the relationship between the color of a substance or the reactivation of molecules and the respective molecular structure.

The project is a cooperation with CreativeQuantum GmbH, a company located in the Science Park Berlin-Adlershof, which develops WebChem and supervises it from the technical side, and T-CEL, which designs and evaluates the MEAs. 


Lisa Bering


"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

 Supported by "Deutsche Telekom-Stiftung"

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