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ERIC Number: EJ1183944
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2018-Jul
Pages: 13
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: EISSN-1756-1108
Organic Chemistry Students' Interpretations of the Surface Features of Reaction Coordinate Diagrams
Popova, Maia; Bretz, Stacey Lowery
Chemistry Education Research and Practice, v19 n3 p919-931 Jul 2018
Organic chemistry students struggle with understanding the energetics of chemical reactions. Reaction coordinate diagrams are one tool that is widely used in organic chemistry classrooms to assist students with visualizing and explaining the energy changes that take place throughout a reaction. Thirty-six students enrolled in organic chemistry II participated in a qualitative study that used semi-structured interviews to investigate the extent to which students meaningfully extract and integrate information encoded in reaction coordinate diagrams. Results show that students have difficulties explaining the meanings of surface features such as peaks, valleys, peak height, and peak width. Analysis of students' explanations resulted in four themes that describe students' challenges with correctly interpreting the features of reaction coordinate diagrams. Students conflated transition states and intermediates, despite being able to recite definitions. Students described the chemical species encoded at points along the x-axis of the reaction coordinate diagrams, while largely ignoring the energies of the species encoded along the y-axis. Implications for teaching organic chemistry are discussed.
Royal Society of Chemistry. Thomas Graham House, Science Park, Milton Road, Cambridge, CB4 0WF, UK. Tel: +44-1223 420066; Fax: +44-1223 423623; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF)
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Ohio
Grant or Contract Numbers: 1432466