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Title The Journey from Classical to Quantum Thinking: An Analysis of Student Understanding Through the Lens of Atomic Spectra
Publication Date
Discipline/Department Science & Mathematics Education
University/Publisher University of California – Berkeley
Abstract This dissertation aims to explore how students think about atomic absorption and emission of light in the area of introductory quantum chemistry. In particular, the impact of classical ideas of electron position and energy on student understanding of spectra is studied. The analysis was undertaken to discover how student learning can be characterized along different dimensions of competence, and to determine the strength of the correlations between these dimensions. The research in this dissertation study comes from a set of semi-structured clinical interviews after a unit on quantum chemistry using a stratified random sample. Open-ended questions were asked on the topic of atomic spectra to a representative sample (N=65) of students from a large introductory chemistry class. Data was examined using elements of grounded theory. Three dimensions were found, Continuous to Discrete, Interpreting Spectra, and Energy/Force, that explain how student thinking about atomic spectra can be characterized. A fourth dimension, Deterministic to Probabilistic, had been discussed in the research before.Students who exhibited a mastery of discrete energy absorption predominantly were skilled with a difference reasoning, an understanding that the energy values of the spectral lines correlate to differences of energy levels. Students who successfully interpreted spectra did not necessarily have a probabilistic view of electron position, signaling that those two concepts, as least as they were assessed, do not strongly impact each other.Using grounded methods on ten student interviews, four main types of representation use and conceptual understanding in the topic of atomic spectra were discovered: Literal Reasoning, Threshold Reasoning, Exact Difference Reasoning, and Meta-Reasoning. Threshold reasoning was indicative of an influence of classical ideas of energy absorption, while Exact-Difference reasoning consisted of a full appreciation of the all or nothing discrete absorption process. Advanced students recognized the stark difference of the quantum behavior from their classical understandings. While some classical ideas, such as threshold reasoning, hindered students from fully understanding the quantum nature of bound electrons, other more productive classical ideas, such as energy conservation, Coulombic attraction of the electron to the nucleus, and the spatial model of the atom, strengthened student understanding.In an exploratory study, data was analyzed from two students who initially struggled with interpreting spectra. Their interaction with a representation designed to scaffold their understanding of spectra was studied, and their successes and obstacles were explored. One student transitioned from a literal type of thinking to an exact difference type of thinking through interaction with the representation. The second student remained holding onto a threshold type of thinking, despite the representation, signaling possible limitations of such curricular tools.This dissertation highlights the deeply rooted and…
Subjects/Keywords Science education; Chemistry; chemistry; classical; college; education; quantum; spectra
Language en
Rights public
Country of Publication us
Format application/pdf
Record ID california:qt7c7789p3
Other Identifiers qt7c7789p3
Repository california
Date Indexed 2018-02-26

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…is  a  significantly  challenging  one,  and  strong  student-­‐held  classical  ideas  are   pushed  and  tested.    Often  students  fail  to  comprehend  the  significance  of  quantum   theory…

…researched  –  how  are  students  making  sense  of  the  new  quantum  ideas  and  reconciling   them  with  the  classical  ones  they  hold?     The  problem  of  failing  to  grasp  quantum

…transition  from  a  classical  way  of  thinking  to  a  quantum  way  of  thinking  manifest   through  students’  interpretation  of  atomic  spectra?    What  classical  concepts  might  be   hindering…

quantum chemistry has centered on student conceptions of the atom and electron position. Researchers have found that students are strongly influenced by classical ideas of…

…matter when describing electrons. Leading up to instruction in quantum chemistry, learners have not been exposed to ideas that significantly challenge their classical

…the  quantum  model,  the  classical  ideas  of  position  and  energy  are   the  dominant  ones  in  students’  minds,  and  shape  their  view  on  the  nature  of  the  world.   1.2.1  The…

…given to a sample across six institutions (N=342) and it was found that students often exhibited conflicts between classical and quantum thinking. Again, evidence of…

…governing  the  trajectory  of  the  particle”,  to  a  quasi-­‐classical  description  -­‐  “Quantum   entities  are  seen  as  objects  simultaneously  having  properties  of  classical  particles  and…