A common observation about student learning in introductory university chemistry courses is that they have a tendency to compartmentalize their understanding of chemistry concepts. To some extent, the curricular content choices of the course may exacerbate this tendency by using a reductionist approach to presenting topics. While this manner of organizing content is likely important in helping emphasize foundational concepts of chemistry, the extent to which students transfer their knowledge to new situations may be affected by this content presentation strategy. Bringing the idea of systems thinking to the general chemistry course represents a way to maintain the careful instructional tactics of foundational topics while at the same time putting them into larger, societal contexts that assist students in using their chemistry knowledge in new situations. A key question that directs the implementation of the systems thinking pedagogical strategy for teaching is, "Are we considering the right boundary for this chemistry, or do we need to connect it to larger contexts and systems?" Examples of how planetary boundaries and systems thinking can be employed in general chemistry to expand how students view the applicability of their newly gained chemistry knowledge will be described and the results of these efforts over the past several years in chemistry classes at Iowa State will be evaluated in this presentation.
Thomas Holme (Iowa State)