For 14 years I was a teacher at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School. Today is the first day of summer vacation for my friends and colleagues there. Now I work at the Concord Consortium, but I remember fondly that day when all the grades had been turned in and “vacation” began. I usually took a couple of weeks to crash and recuperate, but contrary to the understanding of most non-teachers, many teachers spend a significant portion of their summer writing curricula, going to conferences, getting ready for the upcoming year and continuing that perpetual search for new and improved ways to teach.
I taught chemistry and one of the most difficult things I had to deal with was the fact that pretty much everything we explored had to do with atoms and molecules too small to see. Somehow chemistry students need to find a way to imagine a world full of uncountable, invisible particles flying around at blistering speeds, colliding, reacting, attracting and repelling. For the past 10 years we have been developing a piece of software to address this challenge–the Molecular Workbench. During that time I worked with the MW team to create simulation-based activities that give students a concrete handle for thinking about the atomic-level world. Using these activities, students do virtual experiments with atoms and molecules, push and prod them, change the parameters of various simulations and build their own mental model of the atomic foundation of the world around them.
Do you struggle with this issue or just want to “play” with some molecules? Below are a few of my favorites:
- Intermolecular Attractions
- Chemical Bonds
- Diffusion and Active Transport (This activity is a nice connection with biology. Did I mention we have models across physics, chemistry, biology and biotechnology?)
Check out the huge collections of models and activities found at http://mw.concord.org and be sure to take a look at our latest work in making the Molecular Workbench run in the browser without the need for Java.
Have a great summer. May it be both relaxing and productive.