Students' and teachers' misapplication of le chatelier's principle: Implications for the teaching of chemical equilibrium



The aim of this article was to study the reasons, strategies, and procedures that both students and teachers use to solve some chemical equilibrium questions and problems. Inappropriate conceptions on teaching and a lack of knowledge regarding the limited usefulness of Le Chatelier's principle, with its vague and ambiguous formulation and textbook presentation, may be some of the sources of misconceptions about the prediction of the effect of changing conditions on chemical equilibrium. To diagnose misconceptions and their possible sources, a written test was developed and administered to 170 1st-year university chemistry students. A chemical equilibrium problem, relating to the students' test, was solved by 40 chemistry teachers. First, we ascertained that teacher's conceptions might influence the problem-solving strategies of the learner. Based on this first aspect, our discussion also concerns students' and teachers' misconceptions related to the Le Chatelier's principle. Misconceptions emerged through: (a) misapplication and misunderstanding of Le Chatelier's principle; (b) use of rote-learning recall and algorithmic procedures; (c) incorrect control of the variables involved; (d) limited use of the chemical equilibrium law; (e) a lack of mastery of chemical equilibrium principles and difficulty in transferring such principles to new situations. To avoid chemical equilibrium misconceptions, a specific pattern of conceptual and methodological change may be considered.