Continuous symmetry and chemistry teachers: learning advanced chemistry content through novel visualization tools
In this paper we describe the learning process of a group of experienced chemistry teachers in a specially designed workshop on molecular symmetry and continuous symmetry. The workshop was based on interactive visualization tools that allow molecules and their symmetry elements to be rotated in three dimensions. The topic of continuous symmetry is a new field of study that provides a quantitative description of the distance of a specific structure from perfect symmetry. Using novel online tools, teachers were able to perform these calculations with the emphasis on the chemistry, rather than on the mathematics of the calculations. Our results show that even a very basic knowledge of symmetry and continuous symmetry opens up new ways of thinking about and looking at molecules. The addition of visualization tools creates a deeper understanding of molecular structure. Moreover, even though molecular symmetry is not a mandatory part of the chemistry high-school curriculum in Israel, familiarity with concepts of symmetry can help teachers understand and explain other topics, such as chirality and the polarity of molecules. Our results indicate that highly advanced content can influence the way teachers think, understand and teach. This experience can shed light on curriculum choices for teachers’ education.