Mission Statement:

Chemistry Learning Environments Anchored in Phenomena (ChemLEAP) engage students in figuring out how and why perplexing observable events occur in terms of atomic/molecular behavior. Our team of classroom teachers and researchers works together to produce a system of materials that foregrounds making sense of phenomena using molecular models created and refined by classroom communities.


The status quo for chemistry instruction is a brisk trot through a series of decontextualized skills (e.g., Lewis structure drawing, dimensional analysis) and facts without clear connection to how and why the world works as it does.1,2 This “traditional” curricular emphasis is not meaningful to learners and misrepresents the intellectual heart of chemistry. Our program is an attempt to upend this status quo and change the focus of the chemistry classroom from “covering material” to “constructing and using molecular models to explain how and why events happen”. This program is informed by a rich literature base in how people learn as well as how science is done.3–11

Project Overview:

Our team designs, analyzes and refines high school learning environments that support students in explaining and modeling phenomena in terms of atomic/molecular behavior. This involves creation of student- and teacher- facing materials that foreground the connection of disciplinary ideas (e.g., energy, forces and interactions) to causes for phenomena. Scaffolded progressions of core ideas adapted from the evidence-based college chemistry curriculum Chemistry, Life the Universe and Everything1 underpin the course. Accordingly, students weave together ideas under the umbrella of “energy” and “electrostatics” in all units; there is not a discrete “energy” chapter. Each unit is built around an anchoring phenomenon, which is perplexing enough to require unpacking but also intelligible after 2-3 weeks of focused exploration. The atomic/molecular models students build in a given unit are meant to be refined across subsequent units in order to showcase the utility of particulate ways of thinking in understanding a broad array of observable events.

The ChemLEAP website will launch later in 2022. Check back for updates!


(1)        Cooper, M.; Klymkowsky, M. Chemistry, Life, the Universe, and Everything: A New Approach to General Chemistry, and a Model for Curriculum Reform. J. Chem. Educ. 2013, 90 (9), 1116–1122.

(2)        Stowe, R. L.; Scharlott, L. J.; Ralph, V. R.; Becker, N. M.; Cooper, M. M. You Are What You Assess: The Case for Emphasizing Chemistry on Chemistry Assessments. J. Chem. Educ. 2021.

(3)        National Research Council. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition, 2 edition.; National Academies Press: Washington, D.C., 2000.

(4)        National Academies of Sciences, E., and Medicine. How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures; The National Academies Press: Washington, DC, 2018.

(5)        Odden, T. O. B.; Russ, R. S. Defining Sensemaking: Bringing Clarity to a Fragmented Theoretical Construct. Sci. Educ. 2019, 103, 187–205.

(6)        Ke, L.; Schwarz, C. V. Supporting Students’ Meaningful Engagement in Scientific Modeling through Epistemological Messages: A Case Study of Contrasting Teaching Approaches. J. Res. Sci. Teach. 2020, 58 (2), 335–365.

(7)        Berland, L. K.; Schwarz, C. V.; Krist, C.; Kenyon, L.; Lo, A. S.; Reiser, B. J. Epistemologies in Practice: Making Scientific Practices Meaningful for Students. J. Res. Sci. Teach. 2016, 53 (7), 1082–1112.

(8)        Gouvea, J.; Passmore, C. ‘Models of’ versus ‘Models For.’ Sci. Educ. 2017, 26 (1), 49–63.

(9)        Passmore, C.; Gouvea, J. S.; Giere, R.; Matthews, M. R. Models in Science and In Learning Science: Focusing Scientific Practice on Sense-Making. In International Handbook of Research in History, Philosophy and Science Teaching; Springer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 2014.

(10)     Krajcik, J. S.; Shin, N. Project-Based Learning. In The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences; Sawyer, R. K., Ed.; Cambridge University Press: New York, NY, 2014; pp 275–297.

(11)     The National Research Council. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas; National Academies Press: Washington, D.C., 2012.