Learning about chemisty phenomena as emergent patterns
Connected Chemistry is a set of related chemistry units for students and teachers. These units include activities, which use multi-agent NetLogo models. In each of the Connected Chemistry activities, participants open simulations and “play” with them, exploring particle behavior and system properties under various conditions. The user interface is intuitive, enabling students and teachers to easily run simulations and conduct experiments. Each unit is designed around specific learning goals aimed at helping students achieve science literacy.
The strands of learning goals in these units include properties of matter, kinetic molecular theory, chemical reactions, systems and equilibrium, scientific modeling, mathematical models, and experimental design. In the activities within each unit, students interact with NetLogo models to discover important concepts in chemistry, explore the details of particle behavior and system dynamics, while also allowing them to design and investigate explorations that extend their understanding of the nature of scientific models and inquiry. The activities designed around the models, support the students’ manipulation and observation of chemical “entities” at the molecular level as well as the resulting aggregate patterns.
Unit One – Gas Laws: The first unit in the Connected Chemistry curriculum is on the topic of gases: Gas laws, and Kinetic Molecular Theory (KMT). Kinetic Molecular Theory describes the behavior of individual particles (e.g., particles move in straight lines, they elastically collide with each other and with the walls). Gas laws describe the relationships among properties of the system of particles as a whole, when it is in equilibrium (e.g., Boyle’s Law).
Unit Two – Chemical Reactions: The second unit in the Connected Chemistry curriculum is on the topic of chemical reactions: energy, rates of reactions, equilibrium, and La Chatlier’s principle. La Chatlier’s principle describes how a chemical system at equilibrium responds to changes in concentration, temperature, and gas pressure. The resulting shifts in equilibrium that occur when such changes happen can be understood to be the direct result of particle behavior within the system.
Big Ideas: In addition to the traditional chemistry content, both units in our curriculum also targets several important general chemistry-related ideas:
- Modeling: how a model is constructed, its assumptions, affordances and limitations, its relation with the target real-world phenomenon
- Thinking “from the molecule up” by focusing on micro-to-macro descriptions, transitions, connections, and ways of thinking.
- Focus on processes of change in the system, such as perturbation, equilibration, stability, and system states.
- Mathematical modeling, deriving equations from data obtained through the students’ model explorations
- Experimental design
More generally, the chemistry topics are set within a wider perspective of complex systems. The domain of “complex systems” has evolved rapidly in the past 15 years, developing novel ideas and tools, and new ways of comprehending old phenomena, such as weather systems. Complex systems are made up of many elements (often named “agents”, in our case, molecules), which interact among themselves and with their environment. The interactions of numerous elements result in a higher-order or collective behavior. Although such systems are not regulated through central control, they self-organize in coherent global patterns. These patterns are often counter-intuitive and surprising.
Connected Chemistry Units are being developed in two forms. The first form is wholly computer based. This form of the units was developed as part of the The Modeling Across the Curriculum project and is currently available for student and teacher use. To review the instructional units or to use the units in your classroom, register yourself or your school at the Modeling Across the Curriculum portal to download the Pedagogica software you will need to run the activities on your computer.
The second form of the units are in the form of classroom resources that are both paper-based (labs and activities) and computer-based (models). These resources ready for review and testing. Click on these links to download and/or view these resources:
- Unit 1: Gas Laws
- Gas Laws Student pdf
- Gas Laws Teacher pdf
- Unit 2: Chemical Reactions
- Chemical Reactions Student pdf
Principal Investigator - Uri Wilensky (Uri@northwestern.edu)
Research - Sharona T. Levy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Instuctional Materials Design - Sharona T. Levy and Michael Novak (email@example.com)
Author - Michael Novak