CollegeBoard AP Chemistry Summer Institute
Texas Christian University
June 15, 2004

Inquiry Chemistry: Using Computer Based Experiments to Generate Data for Concept Invention


Traditionally chemistry is taught using a teacher centered instructional strategy.

Traditional (Concept ---> Data)

Phases of Instruction






Present Concept

Lecture/Discussion, Readings

What is the concept?


Verify Concept

Confirm the truth of concept

Laboratory, Demos

How do your observations fit the concept?

Confirm concept with data. Provide evidence

Practice Concept

Apply, reinforce, review, extend and understand concept

Readings, Problem Sets, Application Questions

Using what you know, answer the following....




Examinations, quizzes



This may not be the most effective approach for introducing students to new, abstract concepts. The teacher centered approach relies on lectures to introduce the concept to the student, or having the student read sections in their textbook. Laboratory are verification in nature so the students already know what the answer is suppose to be and they are to follow a list of instructions, perform some data analysis, and verify the concept. Finally they apply their understanding by doing problems.

There are several weaknesses in this approach;

Traditional lecture presentations are not an effective method for helping students learn chemistry.

Current textbooks are effective learning tools for students.

Technology plays a secondary rather than central role in instruction. The traditional approach does not allow students to develop their own understanding of chemical concepts.

The traditional approach does not effectively address the difficulties many students have with solving problems.

Research on instructional strategies indicate an inquiry-oriented approach (based on the learning cycle) is more effective when introducing abstract concepts.

Inquiry (Data ---> Concepts)

Phases of Instruction






Explore relations and patterns in data

Laboratory, Demos, MoLES, Lab simulations, video

What did you do? What did you observe?

Gathering data

Invent Concept

Develop and understand concepts with teacher/peers

Lecture, discussion

What does it mean?

Explaining data.

Apply Concept

Apply, reinforce, review, extend and understand concept

Readings, Problem Sets, Application Questions, Verification laboratory

Using what you know, answer the following....

Using data, provide evidence



Examinations, quizzes



Typically the inquiry approach has been focused on the laboratory component of the classroom. With the availability of technology it is possible to produce more sources of data generating activities for students.

Technology has generally been used to supplement traditional instruction. Perhaps it is time technology was used in a more central role.

The resources we will discuss today are some examples of some of the ways I've been using technology in my classroom.



Laboratory Activity (pdf)

Activity of Metals (Flash)

Activity of Metals (Computer Only)
Activity of Metals (Computer and Laboratory)

Boyle's Law (Flash)

Boyle's Law

Specific Heat of Metals (Flash)

Specific Heat of Metals

Molecular Models

RasMol software

PC version of model files
Mac version of model files

Molecular Models


Gas Laws, Chemical Equilibrium and Chemical Kinetics Simulations and activities