January Webinar – Kinsey Bain and Maia Popova

In January, our webinar will be one celebrating two early career researchers. Each speaker will take 30 minutes to present and discuss their topic. Recordings and references noted are below

It’s just math: Investigating undergraduate student understanding of chemical kinetics

Kinsey Bain

Organic chemistry students’ challenges with coherence formation between reactions and reaction coordinate diagrams

Maia Popova & Stacey Lowery Bretz

Kinsey Bain publications mentioned:

Kinetics literature review: https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2016/rp/c5rp00176e#!divAbstract

Mathematical modeling: https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2018/rp/c7rp00230k#!divAbstract

Conceptions of zero order and half-life: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jchemed.7b00974

Mathematical reasoning: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jchemed.8b00584

Problem-solving approaches: https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2019/rp/c8rp00202a#!divAbstract

Understanding rate constants: Submitted at JCE

Project finding synthesis: Forthcoming ACS Symposium Series Book Chapter (see details on full book below)

Other mentioned resources:

Transforming STEM education (three-dimensional learning): http://science.sciencemag.org/content/350/6258/281

Three-Dimensional Learning Assessment Protocol (3D-LAP): https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0162333

Adapting assessments to support three-dimensional learning: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jchemed.7b00645

ACS Symposium Series Book (Co-Edited by Marcy Towns, Kinsey Bain, and Jon-Marc Rodriguez): It’s Just Math: Research on Students’ Understanding of Chemistry and Mathematics (available soon)

Maia Popova Publications mentioned

Popova, M.; Bretz, S. L., Organic chemistry students’ interpretations of the surface features of reaction coordinate diagrams. Chem. Educ. Res. Pract. 2018, 19, 919-931

Popova, M.; Bretz, S. L., Organic chemistry students’ challenges with coherence formation between reactions and reaction coordinate diagrams. Chem. Educ. Res. Pract. 2018, 19, 732-745

Popova, M.; Bretz, S. L., “It’s only the major product that we care about in organic chemistry:” An analysis of student drawn representations of reaction coordinate diagrams. J. Chem. Educ. 2018, 95, 1086-1093 ACS Editors’ Choice Award (open access)

Abstracts and Biographies

It’s just math: Investigating undergraduate student understanding of chemical kinetics

Kinsey Bain

Although facility with mathematics is often central to understanding chemistry, little work has been done to explore the nature of this in undergraduate students. This study sought to investigate how students integrate chemistry and mathematics during problem solving in chemical kinetics, a disciplinary context that has also received little attention in the literature. Interview participants were sampled from both introductory- and upper-level courses: thirty-six general chemistry students, five physical chemistry students, and three chemical engineering students were interviewed. A think-aloud protocol contained four prompts, including a second-order rate constant question and a zero-order half-life question. Blended processing, a theory from cognitive science that characterizes human knowledge integration, was used as a methodological framework to guide the analysis. Open coding revealed themes relating to student engagement in mathematical modeling, mathematical reasoning, understanding of rate constants, conceptions of zero-order and half-life, and problem-solving approaches. Results provided implications for supporting student problem solving and the modeling of chemical processes.

Organic chemistry students’ challenges with coherence formation between reactions and reaction coordinate diagrams

Maia Popova & Stacey Lowery Bretz

The purpose of this study was to elucidate and describe students’ thinking when making connections between substitution and elimination reactions and their corresponding reaction coordinate diagrams (RCDs). Thirty–six students enrolled in organic chemistry II participated in a qualitative study that used semi-structured interviews. Three major themes were identified that characterize students’ difficulties with integrating information from the reactions with RCDs: incorrect ideas about the meaning of RCDs’ features, errors when examining reaction mechanisms, and inability to assess relative energies of reaction species or reaction steps. Analysis of students’ annotations of RCDs also revealed that half of the participants considered only the “major” species (reactant, intermediate, and product) to be encoded in RCDs. The remainder of the reaction species (leaving groups, nucleophiles/bases, and solvent molecules) were omitted from their drawings. These findings suggest that students need support with coherence formation between reactions and RCDs. The implications of these findings for classroom teaching will be discussed.


Kinsey Bain recently received a PhD in Chemistry from Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI). Her doctoral work focused on student understanding of energy in the context of chemical reactions/processes. Concurrently, Kinsey designed and led a National Science Foundation project that investigated student understanding and use of mathematics in the context of chemical kinetics. As a postdoctoral researcher, she presently leads a research team focused on transforming STEM education through faculty development. One effort of this project focuses on facilitating and supporting faculty by teaching about three-dimensional learning (an adaptation of the National Research Council’s document, A Framework for K-12 Science Education), developing and validating assessment and observation tools, and implementing support structures (at MSU and other partner institutions). Research on how instructional innovation is adopted and implemented across different disciplines and department cultures, as well as their effect on student outcomes, is the another aspect of this project.

Maia Popova is a Postdoctoral Research Associate working with Marilyne Stains in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her current project aims to characterize the impact of professional development programs on instructional practices of novice chemistry faculty. Prior to her postdoctoral career, Maia received her B.S. in chemistry from Ivanovo State University in Russia where she conducted materials chemistry research and was awarded the Outstanding Undergraduate Research President’s Scholarship. Upon graduation, Maia moved to the United States where she earned her Ph.D. in Chemistry Education Research from the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio). Working with Stacey Lowery Bretz, Maia’s projects focused on student learning in organic chemistry and led to five publications in the Journal of Chemical Education and Chemical Education Research and Practice. One of her publications received the prestigious ACS Editors’ Choice® Award and another was featured on the cover of the Journal of Chemical Education. During her tenure at Miami University, Maia also received the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.


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