Gina Frey – Hugo Rossi Lecture (Sept 25)

<<Hugo Rossi Lecture Series

Concept-Building Approaches: How do Students’ Approaches Affect their Performances in Chemistry Courses?

Gina Frey, Washington University in St. Louis
September 25, 2017 

This presentation was co-hosted by CSME and the Department of Chemistry


One primary goal of many STEM courses is for students to learn complex problem-solving skills. However, what STEM instructors see is that many students, even those having excellent SAT/ACT and AP scores, struggle in their introductory STEM courses. As faculty work to adopt more evidence-based teaching methods, the question arises how to determine early on who may have difficulty in these introductory courses. Recent basic cognitive-science research suggests that there are individual differences in how learners approach conceptual tasks: some learners tend to learn concepts by focusing on examples and features (i.e., rote-based learning), and others tend to extract the underlying principles (i.e., abstraction-based learning). We explored the possibility that this individual difference in concept-building might have consequences for classroom learning. Using an online concept-building task, we differentiated students based on their concept-building approach, and then tracked their exam grades in general chemistry and organic chemistry courses. Our results suggest that individual differences in how learners acquire and represent concepts persist from laboratory concept learning to learning complex concepts in introductory chemistry courses.

Regina (Gina) F. Frey is the Florence Moog Professor of STEM Education, with her primary appointment in Chemistry, at Washington University. She is also the Executive Director of The Teaching Center and the Co-Director of the Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning, and Education (CIRCLE). Since joining Washington University, Gina has been one of the primary faculty members leading the teaching and curriculum development of General Chemistry. With collaborators in the Departments of Chemistry and Education, Gina has focused on the development, implementation, and evaluation of multiple-strategy active- and collaborative-learning pedagogies, such as PLTL and POGIL, and a transition program for underprepared students in General Chemistry.