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Modernizing General Chemistry for the Year 2050: Why Are General Chemistry - page 11 / 13





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Adopting these seven overview analyses, we are left with a picture of instructional practice regarding quantum concepts which is incoherent.

The instructors feel:

that quantum concepts are worth teaching,

deserve time in their courses, and

are foundational for later chemistry courses.

Despite these positive attitudes, the instructors:

do not expect their students to really grasp quantum concepts,

find many of the concepts difficult and puzzling themselves, and

do not rank them highly (or even coherently) when asked to provide a prioritization of the topics that they teach in general chemistry.

Independently of their response to the query as to whether quantum theory provides a unifying model for the instructor, the instructors responses in Q1 and Q2 made it clear that it does not. From a quantum reductionist perspective, chemistry might be thought of as beginning with atomic structure. Although atomic structure is alluded to through identification of its component concepts (energy levels, orbitals, spin, etc.), none of the respondents define the global concept to be taught as atomic structure. Similarly, spectroscopy is ignored. Other basic quantum concepts such as the nature of waves and how they combine, quantum statistical behavior, and the nature of the wave function, are almost unmentioned. Disconcertingly, two of the instructors still refer to the Bohr atom as something that the students should know. Brilliant as it was at the time of its invention, the Bohr atom is an incorrect model of the atomic structure of hydrogen, and it lends itself to misconceptions when applied to chemistry.

We have apparently encountered two impediments to inducing instructors to rely more heavily upon a quantum conceptual approach to chemistry.

The first impediment is that the instructors themselves do not have such a perspective. This may be the product of their own chemistry education. It may also be the result of the current structuring of chemistry textbooks. Given the limited command of quantum theory that most of the instructors confessed to, it is not surprising that they do not spontaneously construct the quantum story to unify their chemistry instruction.

The second impediment is the instructors’ belief that quantum concepts are too difficult for their students to grasp in general chemistry. Their view is that students who go on to organic chemistry, or who major in chemistry, will have to grapple with quantum ideas. However, at the level of general chemistry quantum ideas carry too much mathematical overhead for students to manage.

Our own perspective is prejudiced. We are engaged in a project intended to demystify and de-mathematize quantum concept instruction. Through the use of interactive graphics and visualization, we are trying to construct an environment that will allow students to reason with quantum concepts descriptively without mathematics. In this manner, we hope that students will be able to construct for themselves an understanding of chemistry unified by quantum electronic behavior. We are working on this project because we believe that this the best way to understand modern chemistry and chemical technology.

Irrespective of the value of our particular approach through software, a more conceptual approach to chemistry, and one that relies on the most recent scientific models, is consistent with the calls for improvement of undergraduate teaching (Handelsman et al, 2004). If we are to see

Garik & Kelley (draft)page 11

NARST 2005

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