, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp 413-429
Date: 10 Jul 2007

Exploring How Different Features of Animations of Sodium Chloride Dissolution Affect Students’ Explanations

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Animations of molecular structure and dynamics are often used to help students understand the abstract ideas of chemistry. This qualitative study investigated how the features of two different styles of molecular-level animation affected students’ explanations of how sodium chloride dissolves in water. In small group sessions 18 college-level general chemistry students dissolved table salt in water, after which they individually viewed two animations of salt dissolution. Before and after viewing each animation the participants provided pictorial, written, and oral explanations of the process at the macroscopic and molecular levels. The students then discussed the animations as a group. An analysis of the data showed that students incorporated some of the microscopic structural and functional features from the animations into their explanations. However, oral explanations revealed that in many cases, participants who drew or wrote correct explanations did not comprehend their meanings. Students’ drawings may have reflected only what they had seen, rather than a cohesive understanding. Students’ explanations given after viewing the animations improved, but some prior misconceptions were retained and in some cases, new misconceptions appeared. Students reported that they found the animations useful in learning; however, they sometimes missed essential features when they watched the animation alone.