NSF Vernier Project

Project Summary - "Discovery Experiments as a Vehicle for Enhanced Learning"

Research suggests that relatively little conceptual learning occurs in undergraduate science labs. This problem is to be addressed by initiating a coordinated program of discovery experiments as the centerpiece of a plan to transform the undergraduate chemistry laboratory program at UCCS. The purpose of the project is to improve laboratory instruction throughout the first- and second-year undergraduate chemistry laboratory program and to enhance conceptual learning of chemistry in the laboratory. Discovery experiments will be developed by modification of existing expository experiments, adaptation of new discovery experiments from the literature, and the creation of virtual computer-simulated discovery experiments. The project covers eight general chemistry, introductory chemistry, and organic chemistry laboratory courses and honors courses in general and organic chemistry.

Anticipated outcomes of the transformed curriculum based on discovery experiments are improvement in students’ reasoning skills, better conceptual understanding, greater interest and success in chemistry, greater interest in undergraduate laboratory research, and improved laboratory skills, making students more marketable.

This project is designed initially to benefit undergraduate nursing and science students, but will be extended to upper-level chemistry courses and to non-science major laboratory courses. It will be made available through dissemination by CD, web, and publications to other schools, colleges and universities. Our results could also benefit K-12 programs that already have invested in discovery learning programs. The model can easily be adapted to other physical and biological science laboratory courses.

Getting students interested in science careers is crucial for the future of our society. A laboratory program that increases student interest and learning will help attract more students to science, particularly those who are “second tier” and more attuned to the concept-oriented rather than the problem-solving approach used in traditional labs.

Vernier Labs

vernierIn General Chemistry, the ability for students to quickly and carefully collect and analyze multiple data is important in order for them to discern underlying trends. Although sharing class results can provide multiple data, the inherent errors often lead students to the wrong conclusions. One solution to this is the use of Vernier® micro-based computer tools. These tools allow students to quickly measure pH, conductivity, gas pressure, temperature, visible absorbance, and other important properties; to graphically analyze the data, either on the Vernier® device itself or after uploading it to a computer using the accompanying software; and to easily modify experimental design in order to test hypotheses.

We have developed three first-semester (Chem 103) and five second-semester (Chem 106) laboratory experiments using the Vernier® hardware and software, as well as both hands-on and simulated tutorials to help students learn how to use the equipment. These experiments and tutorials are available below (right-click to download).

We are in the process of assessing and evaluating the Vernier® experiments. (In both semesters this year, half of our lab sections are doing the Vernier® experiments while the other half are doing identical or similar experiments in the traditional fashion.) We will report the outcomes at the end of spring semester, 2006.

Virtual General Chemistry Laboratories

VGCLThese virtual laboratories were created primarily for use in introductory general chemistry courses (in our case for nursing students), although they would also be appropriate for mainstream general chemistry courses or advanced high school chemistry courses.

Our main goal is to provide students with an opportunity to carry out laboratory experiments that might not otherwise be possible--because of hazards, expense, time or difficulty--in a traditional laboratory setting. Thus these experiments are intended to enhance the students' laboratory experience, rather than serve as a replacement for their conventional hands-on activities. So far we have created five experiments involving radioactivity and three for gas laws (available through the link below).

We have incorporated an inquiry-based approach to learning, where students are encouraged to discover principles, properties, and relationships in realistic simulations. The experiments utilize photographic images of real laboratory equipment, and students are allowed to freely manipulate the objects in the "laboratory."

Go to the Virtual General Chemistry Laboratories.

Acknowledgment and Disclaimer

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0411250. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.