University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

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New initiatives designed to develop students' problem-solving skills

Developing students’ problem-solving skills is the goal of two new general chemistry teaching initiatives funded through the university’s Experiments in Learning Innovation program.

Professor Michelle Driessen, general chemistry director for the Department of Chemistry, has received about $20,000 to develop Intentional Learning Communities.

“One of the most important student learning outcomes for our general chemistry courses is the development of problem-solving skills in our students,” Driessen said. “However, students often struggle to bridge the gap between a surface understanding of lecture material and its application to a variety of problems and situations.”  

She is creating a pilot project to test the efficacy of small-group problem-solving sessions run outside of class time by a trained peer leader. Course instructors will develop challenging problem sets to be solved in groups of approximately five students. The focus will be on the process of solving complex problems rather than the final answer.

“These types of small-group interactions have been shown to raise success and retention rates in gateway courses such as general chemistry,” Driessen said.

Emily Pelton, Ph.D., lecturer for the department, has received $15,000 to create in-person, active learning experiences for the online course CHEM 1015. Students taking this course will participate in active learning activities to facilitate deeper understanding of the course’s content and increased student-teacher interaction. The course will include in-class activities and evaluation mechanisms for use by students in both small and large groups.

“These active learning classrooms will help bridge the gap between content acquisition and application within a small-group environment,” Pelton said.