As a Chemistry teacher wanting students to view 3D models of molecules and understanding their VSEPR shapes, there are a handful of options when it comes to this. I’ll list the things I’ve used below:
- The free (& open-source) molecule building program Avogadro. It is great because students can build any molecule and then the program will “optimize” the molecule and students can visualize the atoms pushing to get away from each other while in the bond.
- Good old plastic ball-and-stick models. It’s hard to beat getting to put together and pull apart the molecules yourself. Unfortunately, there are incorrect ways to assemble them, and they’re not much good if I want to put them on an assessment unless the whole class is looking at the same thing at the same time. I love my students, but I only trust them as far as I can throw them, and that’s not very far!
- Sketchfab is a free website where you can upload 3D files and students can view them from all angles very easily. I can even embed them into my website, so on a single webpage, students can compare and contrast multiple views (the links are actually to orbital diagrams, but you get the idea).
- Perhaps the coolest way to view 3D stuff, that I’ve blogged about before, is using a program simply called Augment. Recently I had some trouble getting to their servers, but the problem turned out to be on our side: our firewall was blocking an essential server for some reason. Once our IT cleared it, it worked perfectly. Since this is the title of the blog, I’ll explain why it’s so cool below.
Last time I used Augment, a little less than a year ago, you would scan a QR code, and then direct the camera at a “marker” where your 3D model would show up. Recently, however, they brilliantly combined these two things so that you can have “custom markers”. That means that you point your iPad’s camera (from withing the Augment app) at the “background” and then the model will automatically begin uploading and then show up right where you’re pointing it once it’s uploaded.
Here’s a student demonstrating that:
If you’re not in education, I’m not sure what kinds of limitations Augment puts on how many you can have, but they were very kind to me once they found out that I am a teacher and now I’m pretty sure I have the ability to make more custom markers than I’ll ever fill up. What’s great about this is that the markers don’t give away to the students which molecule is which. That makes cheating much more difficult, in addition to “memorizing answers” or other such nonsense as that. Just check out my quizzes below:
The 4 images you see represent 4 different molecules for the students to examine. If you’ve got a device and have the Augmented app downloaded, go ahead and scan them: they should work for you. Now here’s another version of a quiz on the same topic.
It’s very easy to make different quizzes simply by rearranging the images.
Here’s a student demonstrating scanning the quiz.
The images were taken from Creative Commons (perhaps the only legal thing I’ve done all year…), so feel free to take them and use them. Yes, they’re the same few images rearranged, and yes, the Augment app recognizes their different arrangement, so it produces a different 3D image for each. The images are originally in color, and I believe that it would help the Augment app if the images were in color, but like most teachers, I don’t have (easy) access to a color printer (nor would I want to make 80 color copies for a final exam). Fortunately, the scanner still worked very well on black and white copies, but you should be careful about a few things:
- Don’t make the copies too small. Then your print quality would be too low and it is harder for the app to pickup the right information.
- Be careful about copying copies of copies. As a teacher, you probably know this reduces the quality of the images each step it is copied. If possible, simply print and don’t copy (fortunately our xerox doubles as a printer, and apparently uses the same resources either way!).
- Make sure to test it out before you make 100 copies and especially before you hand it out to students. (Is that one too obvious?)
- If you’re making your own, choose more complex images, as it gives the Augmented app more information to use when trying to pick up an image. No, you can’t use a QR code as your marker cause those squares stand for something else.
Perhaps one of the best things about this is that I don’t feel that I’m “using technology for technology’s sake.” The students grab the iPads, which they’re used to, and simply open the app, click “scan”, and point. Within a total of 10-20 seconds, they’re viewing multiple 3D images, something which would take longer, whether using laptop/desktop computers or even just the physical models. This is definitely a case where the technology has improved the educational experience: both with the “wow” factor and the ease of accessibility by the students. Below are the 5 custom trackers I made for viewing VSEPR shapes. Feel free to use them!
 The Augment team has wonderful customer service, and they were very generous with their time and in helping me figure out what was best for my students.