have always been fascinated with objects that can't be seen with the naked eye.
One only has to observe students taking their first look at microscopic organisms
through a microscope, or the rings of Saturn through a telescope.
are now just at the threshold of being able to visualize molecules. Crystallographic
techniques, advanced scanning devices and sophisticated software programs have
provided scientists with tools that can provide realistic models for many molecules.
The power of the computer is fast approaching the point at which we will soon
be able to model molecules and their motion with a fair degree of accuracy.
students get their first exposure to atomic and molecular structure in elementary
school by building model atoms or simple crystal lattices such as salt. In middle
school, textbooks begin to introduce simple organic molecules, more advanced crystal
structures and water and ice structures. Although all schools now consider the
microscope a necessity in the classroom to view microscopic objects, few schools
have provided tools for students to visualize molecules. What is perhaps not known
to many educators is that time and effort is all that is necessary --provided
the school has a computer and link to the internet. During
the past few years scientists have provided several excellent molecular viewers
to the scientific community. Several of these programs are ideally suited for
use in K-12 education. These programs are public domain and simply require knowledge
of use and a fairly modern computer (something that most schools now have).
is still much controversy concerning what grade level molecular visualization
should begin. Many educators feel that molecular structure should not be introduced
until high school, since it may confuse students understanding of macroscopic
processes. But other educators feel that middle school is actually an ideal starting
point for introducing molecules. Project MathMol aims to target middle school
students, introducing basic molecular concepts and linking them to familiar mathematical
topics. We hope teachers will integrate some of the MathMol activities into their
mathematics and/or physical science curriculum. Considering the importance of
molecular concepts for the 21st century it is important to provide a strong foundation
for students as early as possible.