Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Effect of demonstration experiments on the quality of the micro-macro thinking of chemistry students

Demonstration experiments are a potentially powerful instrument to improve the micro-macro thinking of students in secondary education. Therefore we want to design a practical and generative approach to assist teachers to develop lessons with a demonstration experiment.

2016 - 2021
Marie-Jetta den Otter


  • drs. Marie-Jetta den Otter - PhD candidate
  • prof.dr.ir. F.J.J.M. Janssen - supervisor
  • prof.dr. M.H.M. Noteborn - supervisor
  • dr. L.B.F. Juurlink - co-supervisor


An important part of learning chemistry is the ability to integrate the three thinking levels of chemistry (micro-macro-symbolic), in Dutch ‘het micro-macrodenken’. Expert chemists do this fluently, but chemistry students have a lot of difficulties with this micro-macro thinking. This is due to the misconceptions they have, the invisible character of the micro-level (the level that deals with atoms, molecules, bonds etc.) and the macroscopic orientation of the students.

Micro-macro thinking is not yet explicitly taught, but students are confronted with it in several problems. It is important that teachers put an emphasis on the micro level and the integration of the three levels, to improve the micro-macro thinking of students. We think that demonstration experiments are extremely suitable to achieve this. In this research we want to develop an approach to help teachers to develop lessons with a demonstration experiment to enhance the micro-macro thinking of their students.

Why do we want to use demonstration experiments?

In a demonstration experiment the teacher starts where the student starts: the macro level. To engage students cognitively a POE-like approach is required. In this approach a student has to predict (P) the outcome, observe (O) the demonstration and explain (E) the discrepancies between the prediction and the observation. Furthermore students have to develop a model of the micro level of the demonstrated chemical phenomena. Finally demonstration experiments give the possibility to integrate science practices in the chemistry lessons.

It is important that the developed approach will be experienced as practical for teachers. The procedures should be low in costs and time and should not conflict with the other goals of the teacher. Furthermore it should empower teachers to increase their educational repertoire step by step.

Research question

What are the characteristics of a practical and generative approach for chemistry teachers that will support them to design lessons with a demonstration experiment which will improve the micro-macro thinking of students?


To answer this question a tool to measure the change in micro-macro thinking will be developed and the desired approach will be designed. The approach will be used to develop a demonstration experiment and the learning effects on micro-macro thinking will be measured. The last step is the development of a professional learning community (PLC) in which teachers will design their own lessons with the approach. The learning effects both on teachers as on students will be part of the inquiry.


The DUDOC-bèta-is a program that allows science teachers to do a PhD in the field of science education and science didactics next to their job as a teacher. The program is financed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Therefore Marie-Jetta den Otter is also teaching chemistry and ‘Nature, Life and Technology’ (NLT) at the Da Vinci College in Leiden (https://www.davinci-leiden.nl/kagerstraat) for about two days a week.

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