If we could see atoms, kids could pick up fundamental concepts of chemistry pretty easily. They would see that all the materials in the world are made up of atoms. They would see molecules and the atoms that they contain. Reactions could be seen as ways of taking apart and reassembling molecules.

Alas, the reality of the matter is that we will never see atoms with our eyes the way that we can see baseballs and grains of sand. However, I have told many people that the chemists that I have run around with do "see" atoms and molecules -- if you would just pop open the front of their crania, you would see the "television screen" on which they move atoms and molecules about. Middle school kids do not have such visualization, and hence atoms are something that they have been told about, not that they have decided to accept.

And the approach is to provide kids...

  1. with a useful definintion of atoms and enough experimental evidence that they are able to accept that atoms are real enough to reason about;

  2. with useful models of atoms and experimental apparatus so that they can learn to "see with their minds what they cannot see with their eyes;

  3. with all of this absent the symbol and math rich approach that we usually take.

    For a teachers's digression on how I got to this approach, click here.


Enough, enough!
Show me how you can help me learn chemistry!