Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ron Good


Strategic innovations and interventions to reform college science teaching will be required to promote the retention and achievement of those students who might otherwise elect to defect at the entry-level courses. The extent to which this can be achieved will depend upon educational research into ways that the science curriculum can be restructured to accomplish the dual function of enhancing science literacy while promoting recruitment to scientific careers. To explore these issues, four introductory college chemistry classes were observed over a period of two years. The classes were designated either as traditional or conceptual. Selection into these categories was based upon recorded differences in prior student attrition rates and selected curriculum characteristics. The research consisted of a comparative, interpretative account of factors associated with these differences and focused on teacher conceptions, classroom teaching and testing practices, and student learning outcomes in an enacted chemistry curriculum. Data were collected from classroom observations, structured and unstructured interviews, researcher-constructed tests and survey instruments, and course and department tests and records. Teacher-classroom instruction and interviews were recorded transcribed and coded to detect emerging themes. The findings of this longitudinal, multicase study are as follows: (1) Teachers who taught the traditional chemistry classes held a conception of teaching that was consistent with didactic accounts of student learning and how subject matter should be taught. The conceptions of teachers who taught the conceptual chemistry classes were more consistent with constructivist perspectives. (2) Teacher conceptions were linked to consistent differences in the way chemistry content was organized, represented and tested in the course curriculum. (3) The results of individual student interviews suggest that students who took the conceptual chemistry classes may have been better able to recall, recognize and apply chemistry theoretical concepts than the traditional students. (4) The class-level performance of conceptual students equaled the traditional students on both research based tests and conventional, multiple-choice, final examinations. They also exhibited significantly more positive attitudes, and their course completion rates far exceeded their traditional counterparts.