Polymers and Cross-Linking: A CORE Experiment to Help Students Think on the Submicroscopic Level

Mitchell R.M. Bruce, Alice E. Bruce, Shirly Avargil, François G. Amar, Thomas M. Wemyss, Virginia J. Flood

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Scopus citations


    The Polymers and Cross-Linking experiment is presented via a new three phase learning cycle: CORE (Chemical Observations, Representations, Experimentation), which is designed to model productive chemical inquiry and to promote a deeper understanding about the chemistry operating at the submicroscopic level. The experiment is built on two familiar activities often used in public outreach: mixing solutions of poly(vinyl alcohol) and sodium borate, producing the substance known as "slime", and linking paper clips as an analogy to represent polymers. In phase 1 of the CORE experiment, students prepare slime, and explore the properties of the separate solutions and slime. In phase 2, students use analogical reasoning to think about a representation for considering the chemistry at the submicroscopic level. The analogy activity includes using an Analog to Target Worksheet to carefully consider similarities and differences between the analog (paper clip chains) and target (polymers). Phase 3 begins with pairs of students designing experiments in response to this question: How do different proportions of the two reactants, poly(vinyl alcohol) and sodium borate, affect the material properties of the new polymer that is formed? In a recent JCE paper, we report the capacity for students to engage in using analogical reasoning when conducting the Polymer and Cross-Linking experiment. In this paper, we include an analysis of a postlab question, asking students to propose an alternative analogy that could be used in the lab experiment. Detailed analysis of a subset (23 out of 312) of student-generated alternative analogies is provided in Supporting Information. Together with the previously published paper, the data provides insight into student thinking about using analogical reasoning in the Polymers and Cross-Linking CORE experiment.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1599-1605
    Number of pages7
    JournalJournal of Chemical Education
    Issue number9
    StatePublished - 13 Sep 2016

    Bibliographical note

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2016 The American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.


    • Analogies/Transfer
    • Constructivism
    • First-Year Undergraduate
    • Hands-On Learning/Manipulatives
    • Inquiry-Based Learning
    • Laboratory Instruction


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