NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ1073053
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015-Aug
Pages: 11
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: ISSN-0021-9584
Student Understanding of Intermolecular Forces: A Multimodal Study
Cooper, Melanie M.; Williams, Leah C.; Underwood, Sonia M.
Journal of Chemical Education, v92 n8 p1288-1298 Aug 2015
The ability to use representations of molecular structure to predict the macroscopic properties of a substance is central to the development of a robust understanding of chemistry. Intermolecular forces (IMFs) play an important role in this process because they provide a mechanism for how and why molecules interact. In this study, we investigate student thinking about IMFs (that is, hydrogen bonding, dipole-dipole interactions, and London dispersion forces) by asking general chemistry college students to both describe their understanding in writing and to draw representations of IMFs. Analysis of student drawings shows that most students in our study did not have a stable, coherent understanding of IMFs as interactions "between" molecules. At least 55% of the students in our study unambiguously represented each IMF an interaction or bond "within a single molecule," while only 10-30% of students represented each IMF as an interaction between molecules. Furthermore, the majority of students (59%) were not consistent in the way that they represented the different IMFs (as within or between). That is, their representations varied depending on the IMF. Student written descriptions of intermolecular forces were typically quite ambiguous, meaning that it was not possible to determine from the student description alone whether the student understood IMFs as bonds or interactions. It was only when the student's representation was consulted that we could determine whether a particular student had an appropriate understanding of IMFs. We believe that in situations where spatial information is crucial, free-form drawn representations are more likely to provide meaningful insight into student thinking.
Division of Chemical Education, Inc and ACS Publications Division of the American Chemical Society. 1155 Sixteenth Street NW, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: 800-227-5558; Tel: 202-872-4600; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF)
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: DRL 0735655; DUE 1043707; DUE 1122472