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Abstract

In this article, we examine the role of visuospatial cognition in chemistry learning. We review three related kinds of literature: correlational studies of spatial abilities and chemistry learning, students' conceptual errors and difficulties understanding visual representations, and visualization tools that have been designed to help overcome these limitations. On the basis of our review, we conclude that visuospatial abilities and more general reasoning skills are relevant to chemistry learning, some of students' conceptual errors in chemistry are due to difficulties in operating on the internal and external visuospatial representations, and some visualization tools have been effective in helping students overcome the kinds of conceptual errors that may arise through difficulties in using visuospatial representations. To help students understand chemistry concepts and develop representational skills through supporting their visuospatial thinking, we suggest five principles for designing chemistry visualization tools: (1) providing multiple representations and descriptions, (2) making linked referential connections visible, (3) presenting the dynamic and interactive nature of chemistry, (4) promoting the transformation between 2D and 3D, and (5) reducing cognitive load by making information explicit and integrating information for students. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed88:465–492, 2004; Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI 10.1002/.sce10126