Teaching Sciences: Where Should We Start

“Chemistry ought to be not for chemists alone.”
Miguel de Unamuno

Recently a video showed up on LinkedIn.  The video was a demonstration of an Augmented Reality (AR) app The Atom Visualizer made by Machine HaloThe Atom Visualizer is the first ARCore app.  In the LinkedIn demo video, the app functions with chemistry flash cards.  The demo is not the first AR flashcards several already exist, like AR Flashcards and AR Talking Cards, to name a couple.  The Atom Visualizer is the first app to use Google’s AR framework ARCore.

While there is a lot to discuss with respects to AR and education, one person compared it to televisions and said it therefor would never work.  Another talked about problems with implementation.  However, I might talk about these issues another time.  What stood out to me as I looked over the comments were comments about chemistry and education.

S., A.
“I am glad to see something like this, but unfortunately this is sending a wrong note. For ex: Oxygen is never O, it is O2 & 2 atoms of Hydrogen combine with 1 O2 atom to form H2O Sodium as Na doesn’t react with Chlorine directly, it instead reacts with HCL (Hydrochloric acid) to form H20 & NaCl.
It would be wonderful if we teach them right things right & help humanity learn faster!!” (retrieved Aug 12, 2019, from https://www.linkedin.com/posts/ajjames_augmentedreality-ar-innovation-activity-6562906886130241536-wNCY/)

A., I.
“I would like to note that electrons are not volumetric particles (spheres) that orbit the atom nucleus, indeed they are present around the nucleus in the form of electron cloud, this is the probability of finding the electron at a certain point with respect to the atom. Additionally, the electron is a volume less particle. I would be amazed if really the correct model is shown and not some old classical physics incorrect info. This old model caused a lot of students to confuse chemistry as they go a little deeper into the subject.” (retrieved Aug 12, 2019, from https://www.linkedin.com/posts/ajjames_augmentedreality-ar-innovation-activity-6562906886130241536-wNCY/)

M., C.
“Interesting idea, but the shape of the water molecule is wrong. There are some cool (free) apps that display correct geometries though :)” (retrieved Aug 12, 2019, from https://www.linkedin.com/posts/ajjames_augmentedreality-ar-innovation-activity-6562906886130241536-wNCY/)

I would say these comments are both correct and incorrect at the same time.  After all, since the demonstration video only shows a few cool looking animations, we don’t know what the educational objective the creator of the cards was trying to achieve.  The video itself would have been much more effective presented as a 1 – 2-minute teaching lesson.  After all, perhaps the creator was trying to help people connect molecular formulas to materials H2O (water) NaCl (table salt).  In that case, the cards are not that bad.

If they are trying to teach chemical reactions, then the cards have several problems.  However, even if they are trying to explain chemical reactions should the electrons be displayed as clouds or discrete bodies.  Anyone that has a chemistry degree knows that electron clouds are the correct representation.  However, to understand electron clouds, you need to get into quantum mechanics. Leaving aside the question of whether the students have the math skills to truly delve into quantum mechanics are they ready to learn quantum mechanics.

Anyone that teaches knows we can’t learn everything all at once.  Also, successful education requires a framework to build on.  Students incorporate new information into existing knowledge.  That information needs a starting point.  One of the problems with chemistry is that we can’t directly observe a lot of the things we teach.  In cases like this, models and cartoons are a good starting point. 

Using representations, we can start building up knowledge.  The dotes make it easier for students to understand that covalent bonds are a sharing of electrons and that two atoms bound together share electrons.  Does that come across to early student if we use two or three different shaped clouds?  While an understand stoichiometry and what form elements take in the environment, they need to understand chemical bonds and the role electrons play. 

The important thing about teaching tools and models is to use them where they are appropriate. Representations like dot structure are not intended to teach students the physical structure and form of electrons. Educations is not merely the process of moving from simple to complex but also building up a framework and helping student incorporate new and more complex information. The introduction of misconceptions in STEM education is rarely because teachers present the wrong information but because the tools are misused.  

Still I wonder when and how we should start teaching quantum mechanics?

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

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