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Virtual and Physical Molecular Modeling: Fostering Model Perception and Spatial Understanding

Yehudit Judy Dori and Miri Barak
Journal of Educational Technology & Society
Vol. 4, No. 1, Technologies and Their Effect on Learning as a Biological Process (January 2001), pp. 61-74
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Page Count: 14
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Virtual and Physical Molecular Modeling: Fostering Model Perception and Spatial Understanding
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ABSTRACT Interpretation of symbols, as well as understanding the particulate nature of matter and spatial structures, are essential skills students need for solving problems in chemistry. However, model perception and understanding the spatial structure of organic molecules has been a source of difficulty for many chemistry students. The research objective was to investigate the effect of using virtual and physical models while teaching organic chemistry on student understanding of new concepts, the spatial structure of new molecules, and preference of a particular model type. The research involved a new teaching method that combines two types of three-dimensional molecular models: physical (plastic) and virtual (computerized). The research population included 276 students from nine high schools in Haifa and the northern part of Israel. Experimental students gained a better understanding of the model concept and were more capable of defining and implementing new concepts, such as isomerism and functional group. They were better capable of mentally traversing across four understanding levels in chemistry: symbol, macroscopic, microscopic and process. Experimental group students were more capable of applying transformation from two-dimensional representations of molecules, provided by either a symbolic or a structural formula, to three-dimensional representations – a drawing of a model, and vice versa. Based on the research findings, we recommend incorporating both virtual and physical models in chemistry teaching/learning as a means to foster model perception and spatial understanding of molecular structure.

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