Public Release: 

Iowa State researchers talk chemistry education at major science meeting

Iowa State University

AMES, Iowa - Two Iowa State chemists recently offered their views for improving science education during the 2009 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

This year's AAAS meeting is Feb. 12-16 in Chicago. It carries the theme "Our Planet and its Life: Origins and Futures." Its 175 symposia, seminars and workshops are expected to attract as many as 10,000 people.

Presentations by Iowa State researchers were part of the meeting's "Learning and Literacy" section:

Thomas Greenbowe, a professor of chemistry, presented "An Overview of Current Chemical Education Research Efforts" during the "Discipline-Based Science Education Research" symposium on Sunday, Feb. 15.

Greenbowe recently contacted 10 colleagues who study how chemistry can be more effectively taught and presented summaries of their work.

Greenbowe's own research includes three primary projects: He's studying how computer animations can be used with tutorials to improve chemistry education. He's studying how labs can be designed to improve students' understanding of chemistry concepts. And he's working with colleagues at the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa to study and improve high school chemistry education across Iowa.

Greenbowe said there are concerns that some of Iowa's high school chemistry teachers weren't chemistry majors in college and that some Iowa schools aren't offering chemistry laboratories. And so he and his Iowa colleagues will survey high school chemistry teachers to determine the extent of their teaching certifications. The survey will also ask if the teachers' chemistry laboratory curriculum complies with the Iowa Core Curriculum and the National Science Education Standards.

"We're trying to identify the extent of the problem," Greenbowe said. "And we're trying to work with schools to develop green chemistry experiments or experiments that use household items. I'd rather have them do that than do nothing."

Tom Holme, a professor of chemistry, moderated the "Conceptual Interference in Chemistry and Biology Instruction" symposium on Sunday, Feb. 15.

Holme's role at the session was to keep the discussion moving as three researchers addressed how chemistry and biology instruction uses language in different ways and how those differences can confuse students.

Holme, who is also director of the American Chemical Society's Examinations Institute, coordinates development of standardized, norm-referenced chemistry tests. The tests cover college and high school chemistry courses and are used throughout the country, including Iowa State.

The tests date back to the 1930s and are often used as final exams. Holme said the institute has decades of test data that could be useful to researchers who study science education. The institute has done preliminary work with the data, which is still on paper. He said the institute is looking for funding that would allow it to convert the data to an electronic format that could be used for wider research.


The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world. Founded in 1848, AAAS serves 10 million people and 262 affiliated societies and academies of science. The association also publishes the journal Science.


Thomas Greenbowe, Chemistry, (515) 294-4050,
Tom Holme, Chemistry, (515) 294-6342,
Mike Krapfl, News Service, (515) 294-4917,

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