Discussion

Reviewing the reduced data above, we are led to draw some tentative conclusions. Given the small sample, and the lack of in-depth follow-up to the survey responses, we are cautious about the validity of the conclusions that we can draw. Nevertheless, at this point it would be a mistake to dismiss the data without interpretation. If nothing else, we can identify questions that require further investigation.

With this caveat, in brief, the conclusions we are led to are as follows. (We have labeled the principal queries of our survey as Q# for later reference.)

Q1. What is to be taught? In providing a prioritized ranking as to what students in a general chemistry course should be taught, the instructors in our sample cited few examples from quantum theory. The selections of quantum theory topics showed only limited overlap across the instructors.

Q2. What should students know? When asked specifically what they felt their students should know about quantum theory, the instructors provided a more comprehensive list. Surprisingly, only half of the instructors cited spectroscopy, and only two cited periodicity. Their selection of topics de-emphasizes atomic structure and its consequences, and emphasizes bonding theory. Only one instructor felt that the wave nature of light should be taught. This suggests that the other instructors may not identify wave-like properties of light as part of quantum theory.

Quantum theory has its birth in the problem of the statistical mechanics of radiation. This is no accident as classical statistical mechanics quickly breaks down in most applications. None of our instructors chose to make the point that quantum theory should be learned to help students reason statistically about matter.

Q3. Unifying Model for Instructor? The instructors’ responses indicate an intent to provide students with a foundation of quantum concepts on which to build. However, there is an overt bias that quantum theory is really only for students who will go on to take organic chemistry, or major in chemistry. It does not appear to be the instructors’ own underlying web for instruction.

Q4. Unifying Model for Students? & Q5. Perception of Student Readiness?

The instructors themselves are skeptical that their students are seeking a unifying model, or even if they are that they are prepared to use a quantum model for this purpose. Most of the instructors felt that the mathematics associated with the quantum theory is beyond the level of their students. It appears that the instructors’ compromise is to present quantum concepts in as simple a fashion as they can. This may account for why two instructors use the Bohr model, despite the fact that it is ultimately a misleading representation of the atom from a chemists’ perspective.

Q6. Instructors’ Command of and Comfort with Quantum Concepts. Reading the respondents answers to our inquiries about what puzzled and troubled them about quantum theory, and what their comfort level is with teaching it, one arrives at a characterization of the instructors as feeling they are prepared for the teaching they are doing, but little beyond. What they find troublesome are the topics of junior level and graduate physical chemistry courses.

Q7. Is instruction in Quantum Concepts Worth the Time? Despite all of the doubts as to their students’ ability to master quantum concepts, and the low priority that they assign the material directly addressed by quantum theory, it is fair to read their opinions as support for teaching of quantum theory. The bottom line is that they believe it is worth the time.

Garik & Kelley (draft)page 10

NARST 2005