Teaching Chemistry with Models

Teaching Chemistry with Models

Teaching Chemistry with Models

Teaching Chemistry with Models

Excerpt

The verb "to teach" seems so presumptuous that it is often embarrassing, for when new acquaintances discover that this is one's vocation, they immediately ask, "What do you teach?" Personally, I never know how to answer. Indeed, when grading time arrives, only the lamentable lack of an independent income and the indelible image of the hungry mouths at home deter me from plunging my class records into cleaning solution and fleeing far back into the wooded hills. What, indeed, have I taught!

Between grading periods, however, teaching is stimulating, challenging, satisfying, and real fun. Furthermore, it is educational. Whether educational for the student may be debatable, but no one who has tried to teach can deny that he has thereby learned something. If one thing that I have learned stands out above the rest, it is the importance of developing genuine understanding on the part of the students. Stuffing a student with facts he cannot understand seems quite useless. And certainly memorization, so indispensable a part of learning, can be greatly aided by understanding. Indeed, it is questionable whether memorization without understanding deserves to be called learning.

The learning of chemistry poses two great difficulties from the very beginning. The first is the unseeable nature of the fundamental particles on which the whole science depends. Students are expected to become familiar with electrons and nuclei, atoms, ions, and molecules that may remain forever invisible. The second difficulty is the inherent complexity of even the seemingly simplest phenomena, which has caused far too wide a gap between interpretative and descriptive chemistry. Indeed, explanations of many common chemical phenomena have not even been available. For these reasons students have been expected to memorize far too much without understanding.

My major research interest, therefore, from my first day of teaching thirteen years ago, has been to find reasonable, yet relatively simple explanations of common chemistry, and to devise methods of increasing student understanding through visualization. This research has led to the development of some simple concepts of chemical bonding and properties that have been easily incorporated in visual aids. Especially, colorful new atomic and molecular models have been devised which can be extremely useful in helping students to learn.

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