Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Other Degree Name/Area of Focus

Educational psychology

Department or School/College

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Committee Chair

Mark Cracolice

Committee Co-chair

Chris Palmer

Commitee Members

Michael DeGrandpre, Daniel Denis, Tony Ward


algebra, chemistry education research, chemistry-graphing, general chemistry, math-graphing, transfer


University of Montana


Most students begin their university studies with adequate mathematical skills to succeed in general chemistry. However, students have a demonstrated difficulty with the application of math in a chemistry context. The ability to apply skills to new contexts is known as transfer, and understanding and enhancing transfer of graphing skills into the context of chemistry is the primary purpose of this investigation. Graphing skills were selected as the area of emphasis because they provide a strong conceptual link between math and chemistry.

This is a two-phase, sequential, quasi-experimental, mixed-methods study. In the first phase of the study, the quantitative research questions and hypotheses: (a) compare ability to transfer math-graphing skills to two other domains, (b) relate ability to transfer graphing skills to scientific accuracy of graphs constructed on chemistry exams, (c) relate scientific reasoning ability, prior content knowledge, intelligence, textbook reading, experience with story problems, and experience with inquiry labs, to ability to transfer math-graphing skills into science context, and (d) compare scientific accuracy of graphs constructed on exams based on instructional treatment. Results indicate that scientific reasoning and lack of chemical misconceptions, of all the predictor variables considered, have the greatest impact on ability to transfer, accounting for about 35% of variance (R2 = 0.350, F = 20.151, p < 0.001). Also, instructional treatments did not appear to influence transfer, and even given all focused attention on graphing, students did not reach 50% capacity of transferring that knowledge into similar chemistry exam problems.

Information from the first phase was explored further in a second qualitative phase. In the second phase, qualitative interviews with purposefully selected participants probed students’ understanding of graphs and their ability to transfer graphing skills into science context. The qualitative research in the second phase was needed to ensure an accurate understanding and explanation of the quantitative results. It was found that, while understanding the time spend working with graphs in lab and being able to recognize graphical relationships and quantify those relationships, students demonstrated a lack of transfer from math context examples to chemistry context. They also exhibited a lack of taking in feedback concerning graphing construction and interpretation.

These results are generalizable because the relatively high drop/fail rate in college general chemistry observed here is prevalent in the United States today, and the students in the chemistry course studied are students who are representative of the general population. Thus, the results of the investigation are a definitive contribution to the research community’s understanding of math-to-chemistry transfer of graphing skills.



© Copyright 2018 Brittany Danielle Busby