Conceptual Depth and Conceptual Usefulness in Chemistry: Issues and Challenges for Chemistry Educators

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Publication Details

This book chapter was originally published as:

de Berg, K. (2008). Conceptual depth and conceptual usefulness in chemistry: Issues and challenges for chemistry educators. In I. V. Eriksson (Ed.), Science education in the twenty-first century (pp. 165-182). New York, NY: Nova Science.

ISBN: 9781600219511




In the 1990’s two movements began to challenge the practice of science education from an historical and philosophical perspective. The International History and Philosophy of Science and Science Teaching Group (IHPST) maintains that not enough attention is being given to the intellectual heritage of many of our concepts in science with the result that, while students might be able to solve some quantitative problems in an algorithmic fashion, they have little understanding of the meaning or significance of the concepts they are using. The International Society for the Philosophy of Chemistry (ISPC) focuses its attention on the discipline of chemistry and has challenged practising chemists and chemistry educators to address, amongst other things, such fundamental questions as the meaning of the terms atom, element, law, and theory as they are used in chemistry. Is it possible to seek and accomplish conceptual depth, a desire of both international groups, without compromising conceptual usefulness, or must one be compromised in the pursuit of the other? In this paper this question is addressed in relation to the thermodynamic concepts of energy, heat, and work; the foundational concepts of element and the mole; and quantum mechanical concepts in chemistry. A textbook analysis of the definitions and use of these concepts in a tertiary level general chemistry course is given as is the implications of the study for chemistry education. [From publisher's website]


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