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Abstract

Modern chemistry concepts have the particulate nature of matter at their core. Chemists explain most phenomena in terms of atomic and molecular models. The lack of understanding of chemistry concepts may be linked to the students' inability to build complete mental models that visualize particulate behavior. With computer animation technology, dynamic and three-dimensional presentations are possible. This study explores the effect of computer animations depicting the particulate nature of matter on college students' mental models of the chemical phenomena. A Particulate Nature of Matter Evaluation Test (PNMET) instrument was used to determine the nature of the students' visualizations and, therefore, their comprehension of the chemical concept studied. Animations were used in two treatment situations: (a) as a supplement in large-group lectures, and (b) as both the lecture supplement and an assigned individual activity in a computer laboratory. These two experimental treatments were compared to a control group. Both treatment groups received significantly higher conceptual understanding scores on the PNMET than did the control group. This increased understanding may be due to the superiority of the formation of more expertlike, dynamic mental models of particle behavior in these chemical processes.