Saturday, August 2, 2014

14 Great iPad Apps for Teaching Chemistry

Almost twenty years ago, I took a job as the only chemistry teacher in a science department of five.  Feeling isolated and in need of guidance, I sought some collaborators.  I found them on a chemistry teachers' listserv, Chemed-L.  The list has morphed a bit during my twenty year participation - it's now a Google group - but one thing has stayed the same:  many passionate chemistry teachers are willing and eager to help when someone needs it.  Recently, a member of this group asked about what iPad apps people are using to teach chemistry.

I have been using iPads in my classroom since 2011.  At first, I searched only for chemistry apps; I found some very good ones and a lot of clinkers.  Unfortunately, what you often find in the app store is a very long list of periodic table or reference apps.  Evidently, many people think chemistry is just a big bunch of information that we need to memorize or look up.  And, don't get me wrong, the periodic table is amazing, but there is more to know than an element's molar mass or first ionization energy.   

Over time I found that many of the apps I rely on are not chemistry apps, but, instead, apps that are great for teaching and learning.  I am going to start tonight with chemistry apps and later this weekend I will create another post about other great apps that could be used for any subject.

Here are fourteen iOS apps I use for teaching chemistry:

Atoms in Motion ($2.99):  Add and take away atoms, increase and decrease the temperature.  Change the volume.  Watch how they interact.  Get a conceptual understanding of particle motion and the gas laws.

Chem Crafter (free):  There are lab manuals with experiments to do in this app with a retro vibe.  Begin with experiments between metals and water and then move up to acids and metals.  I just downloaded this one this summer, so I haven't actually taught with it yet.  It might be good for helping students understand the activity series or periodic families.  It plays like a game, but does have educational value.

Chemistry 101 by Zientia (free and $6.90):  An augmented reality app that is really cool for creating compounds from elements and imagining that at the particle level.  Print out two cards.  Open the app and view the cards.  Choose two elements and tell the app how they would react.  If you're right, they will.

Chemist-Virtual Chem Lab ($4.99):  It's a virtual inorganic chemistry lab for iPad.  The art is great and the possibilities are almost endless with over 200 reagents to choose from.  I don't think virtual labs should ever replace actual labs, but virtual labs do have their place as inquiry experience, pre-labs, makeup labs, and extension activities.

ChemLab ($0.99):  This one is included on the list because it's silly.  The app helps students practice writing formulas correctly.  Drag elements that make a compound into a flask.  Do it wrong and it blows up.  A free flashcards app would probably provide better practice, but this one has a cute factor and a game quality that makes students like it.

Elements 4D by Daqri (free):  This augmented reality app steals the show.  After creating cubes from the templates provided, you view the cubes in the app through the iPad's camera.  The cube becomes virtually filled with the element on that side of the cube.  Crack two cubes together and the elements react.  It's very cool to see the reaction between sodium and chlorine like this.  If you teach chemistry, print out the templates and grab the free app and try it.  You will squeal.

The Elements - A Visual Exploration ($13.99):  This is really the only periodic table app you need.  And it is expensive but that's because it is so beautiful and packed with goodness.  Like the periodic table itself, this app has hidden gems everywhere you poke around.  Lots of good data, stunning images, facts galore, and a love of the periodic table. 

goReact (free):  The excellent Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago created this app with over 300 virtual chemical reactions, including some real world applications.

Lewis Dots (free):  Select atoms and drag and drop them into molecules.  Good for practice.  Take screenshots and they get stored in the camera roll.

Mahjong Chem (free):  Basically a chemistry matching game.  Simple, but good for practice of all kinds of things - polyatomic ions, oxidation states, solubility rules and so on.  My students play this one for fun sometimes when they have some downtime.

StoichSim ($0.99):  One of two apps I love by TJ Fletcher, StoichSim uses a bar graph format to show what happens to the masses of reactants and products during a chemical reaction.  The app is loaded with 4 reactions that students can toggle between.  A lab manual is included with activities or it could be used in an inquiry way to deduce relationships.  I like this for helping students understand the concept of the limiting reactant.  

The Chemical Touch Lite (free):  TCT Lite is an app I use for teaching periodicity.  The elements are color-coded and the colors represent measurements of certain properties, like red for a large electronegativity and purple for a small one.  You can deduce the trends in properties by looking at the colors.  You can also tap each element to see the actual values for each property.  As a good alternative to the standard graphing (or I used to do the straw cutting activity), this is a good app. 

 TickBait's Universe ($1.99):  I first learned of the movie Powers of Ten from the kind colleagues on Chemed-L.  This app is an updated version of that concept for kids who are growing up with mobile devices.  Adorable graphics and a "come look at this" quality, this app draws kids in.  It's great for helping kids understand what the powers of ten mean and why we use scientific notation.  Great for helping to concretize our abstract content.

TitrationSim ($0.99):  A second great app by TJ Fletcher, this one is just what the name says.  You see a buret and a pH reading.  You run a titration and watch the pH.  You can change the acid and base to several different combinations.  The jump in pH is very realistic near the endpoint and the app gives students a good idea of what it will be like to titrate.  The teachers in my department all use this one as a standard prelab to our spring titrations.

I have just added a page to my blog for apps and I will post a lot of the information I have written here on that page and update it from time to time as I find new, indispensable apps.   Check back in a few days for apps that could be used to teach any subject.

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