Using animations to connect macroscopic, sub-microscopic, and symbolic representations of the world

Elizabeth Yuriev, Trayder Thomas, Tamir Dingjan, Michelle McIntosh


Chemistry is considered a difficult subject mainly due to multiplicity of representations, i.e. the Johnstone’s triangle of macroscopic, sub-microscopic, and symbolic domains (Johnstone, 1982). When students learn chemistry, moving between these domains is a well-recognised challenge (Cardellini, 2012).

Teaching resources must address all three domains. For example, sub-microscopic level can be represented by cartoons, macroscopic level by video recordings of laboratory experiments, and symbolic by chemical reactions and mathematical calculations.

To address this challenge, we developed a series of animations to illustrate the chemical phenomena most difficult for students. They were accompanied with the audio and text narration designed to get students to address their assumptions and misconceptions and to assist hearing-impaired and non-English speakers. The animations were evaluated using engagement analytics, test results, and student/academic comments.

To develop these animations, we combined evidence-based pedagogy and technology, to improve student learning and enrich student experience. Animations address shifting expectations of our students by providing them with learner-centred approaches to enhance learning engagement and impact. Teaching and learning with animations is flexible and self-paced.


animation, representational level, Johnstone’s triangle

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