Asee peer logo

Enhancing Understanding Of Equilibrium Concepts In General Chemistry Using The Systematic Method

Download Paper |


2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Use of Technology in Teaching Mathematics

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

11.589.1 - 11.589.10



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Melinda Z. Kalainoff U.S. Military Academy

author page

Dawn E. Riegner U.S. Military Academy

author page

Matthew Deloia U.S. Military Academy

author page

Russ Lachance U.S. Military Academy

author page

Andrew Biaglow U.S. Military Academy

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Enhancing Understanding of Equilibrium Concepts in General Chemistry using the Systematic Method


This study investigates an alternative to the commonly used concentration table method for describing chemical equilibria in General Chemistry. The concentration table method is arguably the single most difficult concept for students in this course. The difficulties arise from the number of simplifying assumptions that need to be made. Furthermore, once the problem has been simplified, a significant amount of time is often required for algebraic manipulations, which students in General Chemistry find difficult. As discussed in this paper, it is possible to deal with equilibrium in a more contemporary, holistic approach, where equilibrium expressions, charge, and mass balance equations are solved simultaneously. Such methods reduce the number of assumptions that need to be made to solve a given problem, and when solved using a symbolic computer algebra program, provide a reduction in the amount of work required to reach a numerical solution. Also, since multiple equilibrium reactions are no more difficult to solve than single reactions, students gain a more complete understanding of chemical equilibrium systems. In this study, we present preliminary results from a pilot study in which several different sections in our General Chemistry course are taught using the systematic method. Student understanding of key chemical concepts is monitored and compared to sections which are taught in the traditional manner. Student attitudes are also assessed in terms of perceived difficulties in learning the new method as well as student comfort with working with technology to solve problems. At present, we can state that no significant degradation in student scores is observed. Students in the test sections seem to be performing the same as or slightly above their peers in the standard sections.


General chemistry is an important foundational course for engineering studies. This is particularly true for chemical, environmental, and mechanical engineering, but all disciplines rely on general chemistry to varying degrees. Certainly, all four-year engineering programs begin with general chemistry in the freshman year. An important area of study within general chemistry focuses on the concept of chemical equilibrium. Weak aqueous acids and bases, precipitation equilibria, and gas-phase equilibria are standard topics. Students are taught to calculate equilibrium concentrations given total concentrations and equilibrium constants for the relevant reactions.

For determining equilibrium concentrations in reacting systems, the method that is currently taught is to write a concentration table to describe the reaction, and then solve for the unknown concentrations in the table by substitution into the equilibrium expression. This method is demonstrated below for a weak monoprotic acid, written

Kalainoff, M. Z., & Riegner, D. E., & Deloia, M., & Lachance, R., & Biaglow, A. (2006, June), Enhancing Understanding Of Equilibrium Concepts In General Chemistry Using The Systematic Method Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1290

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015