A cognitive model of second-year organic chemistry students' conceptualizations of mental molecular rotation

Michael W Briggs, Purdue University


The goal of this research was to answer the question, “What is a plausible explanation (model) of the cognitive structure and processes that facilitate mental molecular rotation?”. This work used phenomenographic methodology and techniques of interview and think-aloud protocol. Constructivism was the theoretical framework. At the outset of the research, I designed nine tasks to obtain participant articulations of conceptualizations of mental molecular rotations. Articulations from five second-year organic chemistry students attending a Midwestern research university became the research data. Analysis produced four emerging themes along two axes: visualization representation and modeling cognition. These two axes formed a mental space, which was modeled by structure and processes that facilitated mental molecular rotation. A theoretical cognitive model of mental molecular rotation was based on the work of two researchers: Robbie Case and Richard Lesh. Lesh's “mental model” is composed of cognitive elements and operations, which are distributed over heeded local and global cognitive sub-models whereas Case deals with unheeded central conceptual structures. The models and structures interact to produce new knowledge and facilitate the use of existing knowledge. Two predictions of the theory of mental molecular rotation were elaborated. Students without a set of operations in a central conceptual structure will not be able to mentally rotate molecules. This is true even if a set of components, other than “operation”, is constructed. The artifacts of mental molecular rotation can be used to determine the state of construction of the central conceptual structure responsible for mental molecular rotation. ^




Major Professor: George M. Bodner, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Education, Educational Psychology|Psychology, Cognitive|Education, Sciences

Off-Campus Purdue Users:
To access this dissertation, please log in to our
proxy server