Teaching Organic Chemistry Through Gesture, Action, and Mental Imagery
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Description: Many undergraduate chemistry students struggle to understand the concept of stereoisomers, molecules that have the same molecular formula and sequence of bonded atoms but are different in how their atoms are oriented in space. Our goal in this study is to improve stereoisomer instruction by getting participants actively involved in the lesson. Using a pretest-posttest design, we asked participants to enact molecule rotation in three ways: (1) by gesturing the molecules’ movements; (2) by imagining the molecules’ movements; or (3) by physically moving models of the molecules. Because sex differences have been found in students’ understanding of chemistry (Moss-Racusin et al., 2018), we also examined how male and female students responded to each of our 3 types of instruction. Undergraduate students took a pretest on stereoisomers, were randomly assigned to one of the 3 types of instruction in stereoisomers, and then took a posttest. We found that, controlling for pretest performance, participants made robust improvements after instruction, and that all 3 types of training were effective for both females and males. We end with recommendations for stereoisomer instruction based on our findings.