The purpose of this study was to investigate students' mental models of chemical equilibrium using dynamic science assessments. Research in chemical education has shown that students at various levels have misconceptions about chemical equilibrium. According to Chi's theory of conceptual change, the concept of chemical equilibrium has constraint-based features (e.g., random, simultaneous, uniform activities) that might prevent students from deeply understanding the nature of the concept of chemical equilibrium. In this study, we examined how students learned and constructed their mental models of chemical equilibrium in a cognitive apprenticeship context. Thirty 10th-grade students participated in the study: 10 in a control group and 20 in a treatment group. Both groups were presented with a series of hands-on chemical experiments. The students in the treatment group were instructed based on the main features of cognitive apprenticeship (CA), such as coaching, modeling, scaffolding, articulation, reflection, and exploration. However, the students in the control group (non-CA group) learned from the tutor without explicit CA support. The results revealed that the CA group significantly outperformed the non-CA group. The students in the CA group were capable of constructing the mental models of chemical equilibrium -including dynamic, random activities of molecules and interactions between molecules in the microworld - whereas the students in the non-CA group failed to construct similar correct mental models of chemical equilibrium. The study focuses on the process of constructing mental models, on dynamic changes, and on the actions of students (such as self-monitoring/self-correction) who are learning the concept of chemical equilibrium. Also, we discuss the implications for science education.
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