How to get started with educational research

You have read the articles about chemistry education research in recent issues of Chem 13 News, and understand why it is important to chemistry teachers, but you may not know where to begin or how to fit it into an already demanding schedule. Here we present a continuum of ways high school teachers can get involved with education research from being consumers of the research and implementing new ideas in their classrooms to completing full-blown research studies where they develop interventions, collect and analyze data, and publish or present the results. We encourage teachers to start by dipping their toes in at the consumer end of the continuum, but how far along you go and how fast you progress depends on you, your interests and your goals. No matter what you do, by taking the first step you are making a vital contribution to bridging the gap between science education research and practice.

Learn about current research

A first step is to learn about research-proven practices and how students learn. Two great ways to do this are attending conferences and reading the literature. Numerous regional and national conferences each year focus on science education or even more specifically chemistry education. Though it is often easier to find sessions focusing on research-proven practices or how students learn at national conferences like the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE), National Science Teachers’ Association (NSTA) and ChemEd, it is still possible to find these sessions at regional conferences if you read the abstracts carefully. “Chem Dates” at the back of Chem 13 News provides information for many national and regional meetings. Also, organizations like PittCon1 and the American Chemical Society (ACS) often have specific days for high school chemistry teachers at their national conferences, and most US states and Canadian provinces have science teacher conferences.

Reading the science education literature may be a bit overwhelming, but here are some good places to start:

  • The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) site2 for chemistry teachers and students. This site has some short summaries of much longer research papers that can provide a great start.
  • The Science Teacher
  • Journal of Chemical Education (JCE)

A great way to stay on top of current research and improve your resume is to volunteer to review papers. JCE has pre-college editors3 to help you through the review process. You can sign up to review for JCE by registering an account.4 If you would rather review for a different journal and have difficulty figuring out the process, send a quick email to the editor.

Try something new

Several great resources for teaching strategies and activities to start off your investigation:

  • The Target Inquiry site5 has activities developed and tested by high school chemistry teachers. These free activities come complete with student and teacher guides.
  • POGIL site6 (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) has teacher-developed and tested paper and pencil activities designed to help students construct conceptual understanding of important chemistry concepts.
  • ChemEd X7 has blogs about teaching methods
    (e.g., whiteboarding) as well as specific activities.
  • Doug Llewellyn’s book Teaching High School Through Inquiry and Argumentation provides both background research on teaching and learning and practical strategies to help teachers modify their own activities.

The goal is to pick an activity that will complement what you are doing so it is easy to implement, but also one that includes research-proven practices. A good activity will start with a question that the students cannot already answer, but they will be able to upon completion. It will also engage students with the key concepts you want to target.

Once you try some new activities, you may find that you are eager to pursue one of many summer professional development opportunities, like the Modeling curriculum workshops,8 to gain some tools to make even more changes. Chem 13 News and the other resources already mentioned all advertise professional development opportunities.

Collaborate with others

Collaborations can be a source of new ideas as well as alleviate the sense of isolation that many teachers experience. If you have a group of chemistry teachers in your area, or even at your school or board, suggest picking a topic and as a group conducting a review of the science education literature to either identify an activity to try or develop an activity of your own based on what you have read.

Attending a conference or a focused professional development program can also help teachers develop a network of teachers and/or university faculty to collaborate with. Some teachers will benefit from an online community like ChemEd X. Teachers can read teacher blogs or check out activities. Registration is free and provides readers the ability to ask questions, comment on posts and possibly contribute their own content.9

NSTA also has online forums for teachers, and if you are on Twitter you can check out #chemchat. Try to find groups not just focused on neat ideas, but on improving teaching and learning.

Develop ideas and collect data

After you read some of the science education literature, you may find an activity that you want to implement as is or design one of your own to address student misconceptions for a particular concept. If designing your own activity, including the following suggested components could help lead you to the next step of dissemination:

  • Learning targets
  • Known misconceptions (cite literature reviewed)
  • An outline of important background material for the teacher
  • Necessary equipment, materials and chemicals
  • Components that address the topic on the macroscopic, particulate and symbolic levels (where appropriate)
  • An experience at the beginning to review prior knowledge to help identify students’ initial ideas
  • Scaffold questions to build on that prior knowledge
  • Teacher check points so that you can determine if the students are ready to move on to the next section
  • Formative and summative assessment items to evaluate understanding of the learning targets

When implementing a new activity — either as is or one you created — collecting even small amounts of data can help teachers identify the strengths and weaknesses of their individual students and/or the lesson. But what data should you collect? Before you begin, you can have students write down what they know about a concept or have a class discussion and write things on the board. After the activity, one easy thing to do is have students review their initial ideas and describe how their ideas have changed. Another common way to evaluate an activity is to have students complete a pre- and post-test. Also, if you have the questions you used on a test the previous year along with students’ grades, you can compare outcomes.

However, developing questions that evaluate students’ conceptual understanding of a topic can be difficult and time-consuming. A few places you can find common misconceptions and good conceptual questions for some topics are:

  • Journal articles that discuss misconceptions and concept inventories
  • AAAS Project 2061,10 which has questions based on common misconceptions with national norm data
  • A search online for concept questions10

You may also want to explain to your students the reasoning behind trying out a new activity. Students enjoy opportunities to evaluate lessons and be a part of a research project. They may even engage more deeply in order to give suggestions for improvement. Students’ qualitative responses can be just as informative as collecting numeric data. Moreover, teachers could use these data as part of their evaluation process or include it in a presentation or publication.


Conferences and literature can help teachers learn about current research, but teachers can also learn from contributing to this conversation. Why not share what you have learned or developed by presenting at a conference or writing an article for a journal? Chem 13 News is always looking for good material and JCE has editors focused on working with high school teachers. If you are not ready to write a complete article, you can submit a letter to the editor about an idea that you have or comment on something that you read in Chem 13 News and how it worked in your class. ChemEd X and JCE also welcome editorial submissions.

Next Generation Science Standards emphasizes that students need to report and defend conclusions based upon evidence. The research tells us that the student will develop a deeper understanding and retain the information better than with didactic teaching methods. This is also true for our classroom research. Consider how preparing a presentation will help the teacher solidify their teaching philosophy and deepen their understanding of the pedagogy or content related to the presentation.

Continuum of engagement of educational research

(Follow the ideas listed below so you will go from consumer of educational research to a producer of educational research. )

Learn about current research

  • Attend an education conference/Read science education literature
  • Review a paper for a chemistry/science education journal

Try something new

  • Change up one of your labs/activities
  • Try a new lab/activity
  • Implement a new teaching strategy

Collaborate with others

  • Join an online teacher forum/group
  • Collaborate with other teachers or science education faculty

Develop ideas and collect data

  • Develop a new activity to address student difficulties
  • Assess students throughout the process
  • Conduct an action research study


  • Attend a conference and present
  • Write an article for a science education journal


  1. Pittcon is the world’s largest annual conference and exposition on laboratory science.
  2. RSC site,
  3. See JCE associate editor, Greg Rushton’s, blog about professionalizing your career,
  4. ACS Publications,
  5. The Target Inquiry site,
  6. POGIL site,
  7. ChemEd X,
  8. American Modeling Teachers Association,
  9. For example, check out a post by Shelly Belleau, where she describes how she incorporates research- proven practice into her own classroom.
  10. AAAS Project 2061 is a long-term research and development by American Association for the Advancement of Science,
  11. Conceptual Chemistry Questions blog post by Deanna Cullen