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MS in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education


The ability to balance equations is used as an indication of student understanding of the Law of Conservation of Matter. The Law of Conservation of Matter states that under the conditions of a normal chemical reaction, matter can neither be created nor destroyed. Students demonstrate their understanding of the concept by showing that in a balanced chemical equation there are the san1e number of atoms of each element on both sides of the equation. Learning to balance equations emphasizes the conservation of atoms in a chemical reaction. Balancing an equation is "effective for a beginning student in direct proportion to the student's ability to see conservation for herself or himself." (Moore, 1997) As noted on the Oklahoma State University Chemistry Department web page, students who can recite the Law of Conservation of Matter, but too often "see no problem with atoms disappearing, or appearing, to balance equations." (Common Student Misconceptions, 2003) At the secondary level, students are taught the skill of balancing equations by visual inspection and through the use of atom inventories. Students unable to learn this skill are left further behind when the balanced equations are used for stoichiometric calculations. As a result of this experience, I became interested in how I can assist concrete level students in understanding the formal operational thinking in balancing chemical equations. My focus in this research is the use of manipulatives in helping students learn to balance equations, and then to develop in the students a better ability to apply the relationship between their equations and the Law of conservation of Matter. Specifically how can the use of manipulatives when learning to balance equations increase student understanding of the Law of Conservation of Matter?