A Matter of Animation

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Science  21 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5943, pp. 921
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_921c

Students of chemistry often have trouble making the connection between macroscopic phenomena they can see and the underlying molecular events operating on a scale too small to visualize directly. Chang et al. investigated whether seventh-grade students' understanding of the molecular structure of matter could improve with the help of computer animation software to portray molecular events in familiar processes such as boiling. Specifically, the authors sought to assess the relative efficacies of three approaches: design and interpretation by individual students of animations illustrating chemical phenomena; self-design of animations followed by interactive critiquing sessions with peers in the class; and examination by students of purely teacher-generated animations. Assessments were based on comparative test performance before and after the animation project. Data from 178 students supported significantly greater gains in understanding among students who participated in peer evaluation than among those who simply prepared animations alone. Thus, including an interactive evaluation component may take more time, but it appears to be time well spent. There was no significant difference in test outcome between the students in the peer-evaluation group and those in the teacher-generated animation group, though the former students did perform slightly better in an assessment of their ability to interpret molecular animations in class.

Sci. Educ. 93, 10.1002/sce.20352 (2009).

  • * Melissa McCartney is a summer intern in Science's editorial department.

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