, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 257-271

High-School Chemistry Students' Performance and Gender Differences in a Computerized Molecular Modeling Learning Environment

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Abstract

Computerized molecular modeling (CMM) contributes to the development of visualization skills via vivid animation of three dimensional representations. Its power to illustrate and explore phenomena in chemistry teaching stems from the convenience and simplicity of building molecules of any size and color in a number of presentation styles. A new CMM-based learning environment for teaching and learning chemistry in Israeli high schools has been designed and implemented. Three tenth grade experimental classes used this discovery CMM approach, while two other classes, who studied the same topic in the customary approach, served as a control group. We investigated the effects of using molecular modeling on students' spatial ability, understanding of new concepts related to geometric and symbolic representations and students' perception of the model concept. Each variable was examined for gender differences. Students of the experimental group performed better than control group students in all three performance aspects. Experimental group students scored higher than the control group students in the achievement test on structure and bonding. Students' spatial ability improved in both groups, but students from the experimental group scored higher. For the average students in the two groups the improvement in all three spatial ability sub-tests —paper folding, card rotation, and cube comparison—was significantly higher for the experimental group. Experimental group students gained better insight into the model concept than the control group and could explain more phenomena with the aid of a variety of models. Hence, CMM helps in particular to improve the examined cognitive aspects of the average student population. In most of the achievement and spatial ability tests no significant differences between the genders were found, but in some aspects of model perception and verbal argumentation differences still exist. Experimental group females improved their model perception more than the control group females in understanding ways to create models and in the role of models as mental structures and prediction tools. Teachers' and students' feedback on the CMM learning environment was found to be positive, as it helped them understand concepts in molecular geometry and bonding. The results of this study suggest that teaching/learning of topics in chemistry that are related to three dimensional structures can be improved by using a discovery approach in a computerized learning environment.