NSF CCLI Award #0633646

Implementing Educational Innovations Through
Inquiry-based and Collaborative Experiments

PI:  Marta K. Maurer, Ph.D. (mkm20@psu.edu)

Co-PIs:  Michael R. Bukowski, Ph.D.
            Mary D. Menachery, Ph.D.

Project Funding Period:  January 2007 to December 2009

Project Summary:

     This project uses the inclusion of a modern chromatographic method, GC-MS, to facilitate change the way undergraduate chemistry is taught at Penn State Altoona. This change includes using real-world applications and inquiry-based learning laboratory experiments in General, Analytical, Environmental, and Organic Chemistry Courses. Environmental, forensic, and biomedical themes that represent realistic situations are being used to engage and motivate students as well as develop problem solving and critical thinking skills. Collaborative experiments are being developed that will allow students from Analytical and Organic Chemistry classes to work together in investigating real-world issues.

     In addition, the new GC-MS is being used in undergraduate research and is planned for use as a part of our well-established community outreach program. A new program is being developed in cooperation with a local high school chemistry teacher to bring high school students to the campus for an afternoon in the laboratories to participate in appropriate inquiry-based experiments with undergraduate students and faculty. An evaluation plan with both formative and summative components has been developed to assess the success of the program. The project is being used to enhance the chemistry education of undergraduate and high school students who will go on to careers in a variety of fields. The research, outreach, and collaborative aspects of this project are being used to benefit women, minorities, and groups who are traditionally under represented in science. Workshops for STEM faculty, local high schools, and community colleges well as publications and presentations are planned to disseminate project results.

Current Project Status: (as of December 2008)

Project participation and evaluation questionaires, including assessments of student learning gains, were developed for the beginning and end of the semester for each of the involved courses.  Upon approval by Penn State’s Office of Research Protections, student participants were recruited and the questionaires were administered starting with the Spring 2007 semester.

The new GC-MS, a Varian Saturn 2200, was ordered, and was received and installed in June 2007.  The Savant Learning Center simulation software for learning GC-MS fundamentals was also ordered and installed.

During the summer of 2007, a new, inquiry-based GC-MS experiment based on an arson investigation was developed.  This experiment was implemented in Fall 2007 for two sections of General Chemistry I and one section of General Chemistry II. 

Also during the summer of 2007, an undergraduate research project which involved the analysis of the heterogeneous oxidation of benzyl alcohol to benzaldehyde by GC-MS.

Work in late 2007 included the development of new GC-MS experiments in the quantitative analysis and organic chemistry courses, as well as an additional experiment for general chemistry.  These new experiments will be implemented in Spring 2008.

In the Spring 2008 semester, the implementation of GC-MS experiments was expanded to include a gasoline lab in the second general chemistry lab, and inquiry-based citrus and banana experiments in analytical and organic chemistry courses, respectively. In addition, a collaborative mint experiment involving students from analytical and organic chemistry courses was introduced. Also, the arson experiment introduced in 2007 was modified to make it more inquiry-based, and an additional module (paper chromatography) was added to the lab to improve the students' learning experience.

During the Summer of 2008, improvements were made to the experiments based on student, instructor, and evaluator feedback, and the evaluation instruments were further modified to improve the value of the information gathered, such as modifying the SALG forms to allow students to describe specific examples of how they were helped by certain activities. A new inquiry-based environmental lab was developed.

In Fall 2008, the inquiry-based environmental lab was introduced, and implementation of the other new experiments continued.

Implemented Experiments:

     CHEM 111 (Experimental Chemistry I): Arson Investigation
     CHEM 113 (Experimental Chemistry II): Gasoline Investigation
     CHEM 221 (Quantitative Chemical Analysis): Flavor Compounds in Citrus
     CHEM 213 (Organic Chemistry Lab): Esterification
     CHEM 021 (Environmental Chemistry Lab): TCE and PCE in Groundwater
     CHEM 221/203 (Collaborative): Mint Investigation

See Students in Action Here!


     The primary source of funding for this project is the National Science Foundation, through the Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement program. Supplemental funding has also been provided by the Department of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at Penn State Altoona.



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