Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Walker, Ryan M.

Committee Member

Sepehrifar, Mohammad

Committee Member

Parisi, Domenico

Committee Member

Moser, Kelly M.

Committee Member

Ivy, Jessica T.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Curriculum and Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Education


Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education


The purpose of this study was to investigate the difference between the “atoms first” and the “traditional” curricula. Specifically focusing on which curriculum better aligns to curricular expectations, leads to higher student success when students are grouped together, and when students are differentiated based on several factors. The main difference between the two approaches being the sequence of topics presented in the first semester general chemistry course. This study involves more than 9,500 general chemistry I and II students over 7 semesters with about half of them being taught using the “atoms first” approach. Student success was measured using the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) final examination scores and the final letter grades. Alignment to curricular expectations was determined via a qualitative review of textbooks written for each of the approaches. This showed that the “atoms first” approach better aligns to research supported best practices. An analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was performed to determine if there is a significant difference between the “atoms first” and the “traditional” curricula. The “traditional” approach was found to lead to higher student achievement for both measures of student success in both chemistry I and II courses. Lastly, multiple linear, multinomial logistic, and binary logistic regressions were run using all of the subgroups – gender, race/ethnicity, major, ACT composite, math ACT, overall GPA, and classroom size – as predictor variables to determine if any significant interactions between the curricular methods and the different subgroups existed. Results found that the relationship between gender, GPA, and classroom size groupings significantly impact student achievement in general chemistry. Specifically, the “traditional” approach lead to higher student success compared to the “atoms first” approach for males, females, below average GPA students, above average GPA students, and students in large classroom settings. However, there are several factors – final examination content, new teacher impact, teacher’s view of science, and withdrawal rate and timing – that need to be taken into account when implementing these findings. Overall, the results of this study provides a cautionary reminder of the many impacts affecting curriculum implementation and the importance of professional development and training during a curriculum transitional period.