Campus Units


Document Type


Publication Version

Published Version

Publication Date


Journal or Book Title

Journal of Chemical Education





First Page


Last Page





As one approach to moving beyond transmitting “inert” ideas to chemistry students, we use the term “teaching from rich contexts” to describe implementations of case studies or context-based learning based on systems thinking that provide deep and rich opportunities for learning crosscutting concepts through contexts. This approach nurtures the use of higher-order cognitive skills to connect concepts and apply the knowledge gained to new contexts. We describe the approach used to design a set of resources that model how rich contexts can be used to facilitate learning of general chemistry topics. The Visualizing the Chemistry of Climate Change (VC3) initiative provides an exemplar for introducing students in general chemistry courses to a set of core chemistry concepts, while infusing rich contexts drawn from sustainability science literacy. Climate change, one of the defining sustainability challenges of our century, with deep and broad connections to chemistry curriculum and crosscutting concepts, was selected as a rich context to introduce four topics (isotopes, acids–bases, gases, and thermochemistry) into undergraduate general chemistry courses. The creation and assessment of VC3 resources for general chemistry was implemented in seven steps: (i) mapping the correlation between climate literacy principles and core first-year university chemistry content, (ii) documenting underlying science conceptions, (iii) developing an inventory of chemistry concepts related to climate change and validating instruments that make use of the inventory to assess understanding, (iv) articulating learning outcomes for each topic, (v) developing and testing peer-reviewed interactive digital learning objects related to climate literacy principles with particular relevance to undergraduate chemistry, (vi) piloting the materials with first-year students and measuring the change in student understanding of both chemistry and climate science concepts, and (vii) disseminating the interactive resources for use by chemistry educators and students. A novel feature of the approach was to design resources (step v) based on tripartite sets of learning outcomes (step iv) for each chemistry and climate concept, with each knowledge outcome accompanied by an outcome describing the evidential basis for that knowledge, and a third outcome highlighting the relevance of that knowledge for students.


This article is published as Mahaffy, Peter G., Thomas A. Holme, Leah Martin-Visscher, Brian E. Martin, Ashley Versprille, Mary Kirchhoff, Lallie McKenzie, and Marcy Towns. "Beyond “inert” ideas to teaching general chemistry from rich contexts: Visualizing the chemistry of climate change (VC3)." Journal of Chemical Education 94, no. 8 (2017): 1027-1035. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.6b01009. Posted with permission.


This is an open access article published under an ACS AuthorChoice License, which permits copying and redistribution of the article or any adaptations for non-commercial purposes.

Copyright Owner

The American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.



File Format