To what degree does handling concrete molecular models promote the ability to translate and coordinate between 2D and 3D molecular structure representations? A case study with Algerian students
This study aims to assess whether the handling of concrete ball-and-stick molecular models promotes translation between diagrammatic representations and a concrete model (or vice versa) and the coordination of the different types of structural representations of a given molecular structure. Forty-one Algerian undergraduate students were requested to answer a pencil and paper questionnaire at the end of their training for a bachelor's degree in physical sciences to test their abilities to translate from Dash-Wedge or Newman representations to 3D ball-and-stick models (and vice versa) of two molecular structures and from one concrete 3D model to the Fischer projection of the molecule. Our results show that concrete molecular models have the potential to be an effective spatial tool to promote visualization, orientation and rotation abilities. However, the handling of the concrete model did not have the same impact on all students and this effectiveness in promoting the spatial abilities required to translate and coordinate between representations was dependent on the representations: it was greater for Dash-Wedge diagrams than for Newman, and was non-existent for the Fischer projection. An implication of our research is that it may be necessary to work with a model over an extensive period of time to improve the mechanisms by which one translates between various representations when the conventions of these representations are varied in nature.