Addressing misconceptions and knowledge gaps in restructuring of atomic bonding content in a materials course to enhance student conceptual change

Stephen Krause, Jacquelyn E. Kelly, Dale R. Baker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is generally acknowledged in science and engineering education research that students have prior knowledge about how the world works, such as preconceptions and misconceptions and in order create, develop, or restructure instructional materials and activities, they must be informed by that prior knowledge. In a sense, prior knowledge in a classroom setting consists of, in addition to preconceptions and misconceptions, knowledge gaps, limited language skills, and varying analytical, computational, and graphical skills. As found in science education, effective instructional materials and classroom practice are informed by and address information from broad formative assessment of foundational knowledge of students learning new content. In engineering education, instruction must build on this idea to teach students not only about scientific phenomena, but also application of scientific phenomena to engineering applications. In this research, teaching and learning materials and activities that do this have been informed by such assessment results. In this paper we report on the research question, "How can instructional materials be modified to address and assess misconception and knowledge gap identification and repair from formative and summative assessments in an introductory materials class?" Information from a materials concept inventory, pre-post topic concept question sets, team activities, and classroom dialogue have been used to remodel class notes. Students learned concepts by connecting a real-world artifact's macroscopic properties to its internal atomic and microscopic structural characteristics with multiple representations of the linkages. Application of analogical reasoning and cognitive dissonance learning tools were incorporated in class notes and team activities to promote conceptual change. Incorporating hard data in "explain and predict activities" forces students to address anomalies in their mental models and revise and remodel their conceptual framework in a given topical area. Effective instructional materials can not only address student issues, but also inform instructor practice to enhance his/her pedagogical content knowledge. Two examples are given in this paper about a knowledge gap and a misconception. One is for an atomic bonding knowledge gap about van der Waals bonding and associated misconceptions related to polymer properties. The other is about metallic bonding and students' representation of image and function of bonding in metals. Approaches to addressing these issues are illustrated with implementation of informed instructional materials, activities, and tools in the classroom. These will be presented and discussed in detail in the paper with the goal of illustrating possible pathways to broader implementation of innovative pedagogy by more instructors and possibly other engineering disciplines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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