Faculty & Staff

Department/SpecializationLearning Sciences & Chemistry


Office Phone

  • +1 (312) 996-4348
  • +1 (312) 413-1304


  • 4376 SES
  • 1570-C SSB

Mailing Address

Learning Sciences Research Institute Univerisity of Illinois at Chicago
1240 W. Harrison St. Suite 1570, M/C 250
60607-7019 Chicago , IL


Associate Professor

Mike Stieff is an assistant professor of learning sciences and chemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He received a Ph.D. in learning sciences and an M.S. in chemistry from Northwestern University, where he was awarded a Spencer Dissertation Year Fellowship Award for his research on human problem solving in undergraduate organic chemistry. His research examines sex differences in organic chemistry problem solving, the interaction of spatial ability and chemistry expertise, and the development of visualization software for teaching chemistry. With a grant from the National Science Foundation, Stieff and his colleagues are studying how physical models help (and hinder) students in organic chemistry. This work has led to the finding that molecular models only benefit learning when students are able to physically handle models, and that teaching methods that only display models can negatively impact student achievement. To address such limitations, Stieff is developing gesture-recognition interfaces that permit students to "handle" molecular models in virtual simulations. Stieff also directsThe Connected Chemistry Curriculum project, which involves the development and evaluation of molecular visualizations for teaching high schools. This project aims to improve the achievement of urban science students through activities that involve inquiry explorations of virtual chemical reactions. Stieff has been published in Cognition & InstructionInternational Journal of Science EducationJournal of Research in Science Teaching and other journals. He has served as an assistant professor of science education at the University of Maryland-College Park, and he has taught general chemistry at the secondary level and organic chemistry for the City Colleges of Chicago.




  • 2004 PH.D., Northwestern University, Learning Sciences, Cognitive Science Certificate
  • 2000 M.S., Northwestern University, Chemistry
  • 1998 B.S., Northwestern University, Chemistry, Latin (Minor), Magna Cum Laude 
  • 1997 Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies Latin, Latin and Classical Studies

Research and Teaching Interests

Design-based research, curriculum development, science education (chemistry), diagrammatic reasoning, mental imagery and spatial reasoning, expertise, individual and gender differences, visualization technologies 

Selected Publications

  1. Scopelitis, S., & Stieff, M. Coordinating representations with gesture, speech and inscriptions. Manuscript in preparation.

  2. Stieff, M. Improving science achievement with drawing activities & visualization tools. Manuscript submitted for publication.

  3. Hegarty, M., Stieff, M., & Dixon, B. L. Cognitive change in mental models with experience in the domain of organic chemistry. Manuscript submitted for publication.

  4. Stull, A. T., Hegarty, M., Dixon, B. L., & Stieff, M. Use it or lose it: Representational translation with concrete models. Manuscript submitted for publication.

  5. Stieff, M. Task-specificity and sex differences in strategy use. Manuscript submitted for publication.

  6. Stieff, M., Hegarty, M., Dixon, B.L., Clover, B., & Ryu, M. The impact of strategy training and

    spatial ability on chemistry achievement and strategy use among men and women. Manuscript

    submitted for publication.

  7. Stieff, M., Yip, J., & Ryu, M. Speaking across levels—teacher and student discourse practices in the

    chemistry classroom. Manuscript submitted for publication.

  8. Scopelitis, S., & Stieff, M. (in press). Weaving together parts to achieve a whole: Gestural activity for

    the coordination of information in the teaching and learning of chemistry. Proceedings of the Ninth

    International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS).

  9. Lira, M., Stieff, M., & Scopelitis, S. (in press). The role of gesture in solving spatial problems in

    STEM. Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS).

  10. Stieff, M., Ryu, M., Dixon, B. L., & Hegarty, M. (in press). Problem solving strategies used by

    organic chemistry undergraduates. Journal of Chemical Education.

  11. Newcombe, N., & Stieff, M. (2012). Six myths about spatial thinking. International Journal of

    Science Education, 34(6), 955-971.

  12. Stieff, M. (2011). Fostering representational competence through argumentation with multi-

    representational displays. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Computer-Supported

    Collaborative Learning (Vol. 1, pp. 288-295). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

  13. Stieff, M. (2011). Improving representational competence using multi-representational learning

    environments. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(10), 1137-1158.

  14. Stieff, M. (2011). When is a molecule three-dimensional? A task-specific role for imagistic reasoning

    in advanced chemistry. Science Education, 95(2), 310-336.

  15. Stieff, M., Hegarty, M., & Deslongchamps, G. (2011). Coordinating multiple representations in

    scientific problem solving: Evidence from concurrent verbal and eye-tracking protocols. Cognition &

    Instruction, 29(1), 123-145.

  16. Stieff, M., Hegarty, M., & Dixon, B. L. (2010). Alternative strategies for spatial reasoning with

    diagrams. In A. K. Goel, M. Jamnik, N. H. Narayanan (Eds.), Diagrammatic Representation and

    Inference. (pp. 115-127). New York, NY: Springer.

  17. Stull, A.T., Hegarty, M., Stieff, M., & Dixon, B. L. (2010). Does manipulating molecular models

    promote representation translation of diagrams in chemistry? In A. K. Goel, M. Jamnik, N. H.

    Narayanan (Eds.), Diagrammatic Representation and Inference. (pp. 338-344). Berlin: Springer.

  18. Stieff, M., Ryu, M., & Dixon, B. L. (2010). Students’ use of multiple strategies for scientific problem

    solving. In K. Gomez, L. Lyons & J. Radinsky (Eds.), Proceedings of the Ninth International

    Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) (Vol. 1, pp. 765-772). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

  19. Cathcart, L., Stieff, M., Marbach-Ad, G., Smith, A., & Frauwirth, K. (2010). Using Knowledge

    Space Theory to analyze concept maps in an undergraduate immunology course. Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) (Vol. 1., pp. 952-959). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

  20. Stieff, M., & Raje, S. (2010). Expert algorithmic and imagistic problem solving strategies in advanced chemistry. Spatial Cognition & Computation. 10(1), 53-81.

  21. Stieff, M., & Raje, S. (2008). Expertise and spatial reasoning in advanced scientific problem solving. Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS, pp. 366-373). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

  22. Stieff, M. (2007). Mental rotation and diagrammatic reasoning in science. Learning and Instruction, 17(2), 219-234.

  23. Stieff, M., & McCombs, M. (2006). Increasing representational fluency with visualization tools. Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) (Vol.1, pp. 730-736). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

  24. Stieff, M. (2005). Visualization and diagrammatic reasoning in genuine scientific problem solving. In T. Barkowsky, C. Freksa, M. Hegarty, & R. Lowe (Eds.), Reasoning with mental and external diagrams: computation modeling and spatial assistance (AAAI Tech. Rep. SS-05-06, pp. 121-126). Menlo Park, CA: AAAI Press.

  25. Stieff, M. (2005). Connected Chemistry–A novel modeling environment for the chemistry classroom. Journal of Chemical Education, 82(3), 489-493.

  26. Stieff, M., & Wilensky, U. (2003). Connected Chemistry–Incorporating interactive simulations into the chemistry classroom. Journal of Science Education & Technology, 12(3), 285-302.

  27. Sherin, B., Kanter, D., Schwarz, J., Stieff, M., Herman, P., & Mackenzie, S. (2002). Conceptual dynamics in project-based science. In P. Bell, R. Stevens, & T. Satwicz (Eds.), Keeping Learning Complex: The Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) (pp. 429-436). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

  28. Stieff, M., & Wilensky, U. (2002). ChemLogo: An emergent modeling environment for teaching and learning chemistry. In P. Bell, R. Stevens, & T. Satwicz (Eds.), Keeping Learning Complex: The Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) (pp. 451-458). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

  29. Crouch, R. D., Stieff, M., Frie, J. L., Cadwallader, A. B., & Bevis, D. C. (1999). Selective deprotection of silyl-protected phenols using solid NaOH and a phase transfer catalyst. Tetrahedron Letters, 40, 3133-3136. 


  • 2011 Nominee, Best Design Paper Award 9th International Conference on Computer supported Collaborative Learning.
  • 2010 Winner, Best Paper Award 6th International Conference, Diagrams 2010
  • 2010 Nominee, Best Student Paper Award 9th International Conference of the Learning Sciences.
  • Northwestern University Dissertation Year Fellowship Award
  • Northwestern University Graduate Research Grant, Competitive Campus Research.
  • Congnitive Science Fellowship, Independent, Interdisciplinary Graduate Resear
  • Horace E. Rogers Award, Potential in the Field of Chemistry.
  • C.V. Starr Scholarship, Academic Excellence in Classics
  • Mary Dickinson Scholarship, Overall Academic Excellence
  • American Chemical Society's 1998 Outstanding Chemistry Major Award
  • Phi Beta Kappa