We are Assessing for Change in Chemical Thinking - ACCT

ACCT logo green triangle of text: chemical thinking assessing around a student

Who/What is ACCT?

We, the members of ACCT (Becca, Greg, Hannah, Michael, Rob, Scott), represent a NSF-funded collaboration (NSF awards DRL-1222624 and DRL-1221494) between university researchers, graduate and postdoctoral students, and high school and middle school teachers. We focus on fostering chemical thinking in the middle school, high school and undergraduate classroom through strategic formative assessment usage. In order to accomplish this, we develop resources, tools, and professional development for teachers of chemistry to develop students’ chemical thinking. We also study how chemistry teachers’ reasoning about formative assessment changes and how chemistry teachers shift to emphasize formative assessment as a lever for change. By working with teachers nationwide, we believe that we can help teachers reimagine the way that they think about chemistry, and develop more purposeful and productive ways of interacting with their students to help them learn. (If you would like to learn more about us, check out our prior ChemEdX conference page and a JChemEd article about how we collaborate).1 Our work focuses on Chemical Thinking and Formative Assessment as two major frameworks for professional development and research. 

Figure 1: Six threads of chemical thinking


What is the Chemical Thinking framework?

Chemical Thinking (CT) is a powerful way of thinking about the science of chemistry with multiple applications in life outside the science classroom; including human health, environmental protection, and sustainable development, where students use chemistry knowledge and skills to investigate, design, and/or evaluate everyday life, personal decisions, and the media, connecting to a larger purpose that improves the human condition. Rather than conceptualizing chemistry through topics as chapters in a textbook (e.g. stoichiometry, kinetics, bonding), we have organized the science into six threads consistent with how people learn and experience chemistry in their lives. These six threads are focused on fundamental questions that the science of chemistry seeks to answer. Within each thread, there is a learning progression from novice to expert that we seek to develop in our students as chemistry teachers. These types of chemical thinking can occur together, and many different threads of chemical thinking can emerge from students in the context of one lesson. From this approach, students build their ability to use chemical thinking in each thread over the course of many experiences during an academic year. These six CT threads are:

  • Chemical identity - How do we identify chemical substances?
  • Structure-property - How do we predict their properties?
  • Chemical causalityWhy do chemical processes occur?
  • Chemical mechanismHow do chemical processes occur? 
  • Chemical control How can we control chemical processes?
  • Benefits-costs-risksHow do we evaluate the impacts of chemically transforming matter?

If you would like to find out more, you can read one of our papers, Capturing Chemical Identity Thinking, and examine one of our formative assessments (from the supporting information of that article) about chemical thinking, both of which are open access and freely available.2


Figure 2: Model of enactment for student discourse


How does ACCT do formative assessment?

Formative assessment has been defined as the process to reveal, recognize and respond to student thinking and to enhance learning through teacher moves. Formative assessment is an ongoing process in which teachers typically engage in multiple cycles of noticing/interpreting and acting, which may encompass eliciting further student ideas or advancing students’ ideas toward course content. The way teachers approach formative assessments influences students’ conceptual understanding, as well as their attitudes, motivation, and effort, particularly among underperforming learners. We at ACCT focus on designing formative assessments that will reveal students chemical thinking, such as the volcano probe, the exploding pringles challenge, and the cool off challenge. We have also developed a model of enactment (shown above) to help teachers think about classroom discourse about chemistry in a more purposeful fashion. You can view our archive of written formative assessments that we have designed and published on our ACCT landing page. You can also learn more about the research behind this model by reading our paper, Characterizing the formative assessment enactment of experienced science teachers.3


We would love to connect with you! 

As a group, we at ACCT are looking to connect with teachers nationwide to build an educator community around formative assessment and chemical thinking, as well as share the resources that we have and are continuing to develop. You can explore more about us on our ACCT landing page, and are welcome to reach out to us at ACCTProject@umb.edu


  1. G. Szteinberg, S. Balicki, G. Banks, M. Clinchot, S. Cullipher, R. Huie, J. Lambertz, R. Lewis, C. Ngai, M. Weinrich, V. Talanquet, H. Sevian, Collaborative Professional Development in Chemistry Education Research: Bridging the Gap between Research and Practice, J. Chem. Educ. 2014, 91, 9, 1401-1408. (accessed 1/27/2020) - This article is designated as AuthorsChoice and freely available without a J. Chem. Ed. subscription.
  2. C. Ngai, H. Sevian, Capturing Chemical Identity ThinkingJ. Chem. Educ. 2017, 94, 2, 137-148. (accessed 1/27/2020)
  3. V. Dini, H. Sevian, K. Caushi, R. O. Picón, Characterizing the formative assessment enactment of experienced science teachers, Science Education published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., Jan 8, 2020.
Join the conversation.

All comments must abide by the ChemEd X Comment Policy, are subject to review, and may be edited. Please allow one business day for your comment to be posted, if it is accepted.

Comments 2

Philip Pietrangelo's picture
Philip Pietrangelo | Wed, 01/29/2020 - 08:42

I really appreciate your work done towards creating a chemical framework around themes of inquiry as opposed to topics of study. It is my opinion that answering questions through rigorous problem solving and modeling is inherently satisfying at all levels so approaching a curriculum with thematic questions is really interesting to me. 

I do wonder what sorts of formative assessment resources you can offer. I do lots of "check ins" that give me instant and useful feedback, but don't always authentically show me how students think. Oral/verbal checks are good and show me what students really know and the sense-making that can do in real time, but they are incredibly time-consuming and laborious for teachers. Any advice would be welcome!

Scott Balicki's picture
Scott Balicki | Wed, 01/29/2020 - 12:10

Thanks for the feedback Phil!  The issue that you have highlighted is a central dilemma; namely that there is a balancing act between timely/manageable check-ins and laborious ones that authentically show what students think.  Although our group doesn't promise an easy answer to this question, we do have a series of formative assessments that are free for all to access from the ACCT website.  Additionally, our model for enactment of formative assessment (figure 2 in the post) is a way that we propose helps teachers think purposefully about their in-the-moment decisions while leading a "check in" and offering feedback.  We also plan to share more about this framework in the near future, so stay tuned!