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Differences in General Cognitive Abilities and Domain-Specific Skills of Higher- and Lower-Achieving Students in Stoichiometry

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Department of Chemistry, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas 77341, United States
Department of Biology and Chemistry, University of Bremen, Bremen, D-28334, Germany
§ Department of Chemistry, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, United States
*E-mail: [email protected]. Telephone: (936) 294-1532.
Cite this: J. Chem. Educ. 2014, 91, 7, 961–968
Publication Date (Web):June 11, 2014
Copyright © 2014 The American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.

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    This paper reports a comparison of a group of higher- and lower-achieving undergraduate chemistry students, 17 in total, as separated on their ability in stoichiometry. This exploratory study of 17 students investigated parallels and differences in the students’ general and domain-specific cognitive abilities. Performance, strategies, and mistakes in the students’ problem solving in the field of stoichiometry were also investigated in detail. The study revealed that the major difference between higher- and lower-achieving students lies in their cognitive skills, especially in domain-specific (mole concept) skills and the ability to deal with complexity. Results suggest that a thoroughly differentiated set of tasks be applied in the undergraduate chemistry classroom: tasks with limited complexity and structured help or scaffolding are needed for lower-achieving students, whereas complex and abstract tasks are needed to challenge the higher-achieving students.

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