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Using models and representations in learning and teaching about the atom: A systematic literature review
Linköping University, Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Linköping University, The Institute of Technology.
2015 (English)Independent thesis Basic level (professional degree), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

This study is a systematic literature review on the role of models and representations in the teaching, learning and understanding of the atom and atomic concepts. The aim of the study is to investigate the role of different visual representations, what models and representations are used in the science classroom, how learners interpret different external representations of the atom, what mental models students construct, and how the representations can be used and designed for meaningful learning and teaching of the atom and atomic concepts.


In this systematic literature review, a combination of different databases was used to search for literature, namely ERIC, Scopus and Google Scholar. Some limiters were used to narrow down the returned results: the articles should be peer-reviewed and be published 1990-01-01 or later. Ten of the returned articles were included for individual analysis in the study.


The results of the study show that students often find concepts of atomic structure difficult and confusing. The abstract microscopic world of atoms cannot be seen with the naked eye, and models are therefore necessary and crucial educational tools for teaching atomic concepts in school. However, when using a model, it is important for the teacher to explain the rules of the model, and the advantages and limitations of the representation must be discussed. Analysis of the included articles revealed three types of representations used to represent atomic phenomena: two-dimensional static diagrams or pictures (e.g. a picture of the atom), three-dimensional videos or simulations (e.g. virtual reality simulations), and visual analogies (e.g. the Bohr planetary model of the atom). The use of simulations and interactive learning environments seem to have a positive effect on students’ learning. One of the studies, described in the articles included for analysis, showed that students appreciated the use of virtual reality simulations, since it made abstract concepts easier to understand when they could be visualized.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. , 70 p.
Keyword [en]
Physics education, chemistry education, models, representations, atom, atomic concepts, mental models, alternative conceptions, teaching, student understanding
National Category
Didactics Physical Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-117163ISRN: LIU-GY-L-G--15/118—SEOAI: diva2:807576
Subject / course
Graduation Thesis in the Teacher Programme, Linköping
Available from: 2015-05-25 Created: 2015-04-20 Last updated: 2015-05-25Bibliographically approved

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Department of Physics, Chemistry and BiologyThe Institute of Technology
DidacticsPhysical Sciences

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