The fundamental models of modern chemistry describe the behavior of electrons in atoms and molecules, and provide a statistical mechanical interpretation of thermodynamics. Both of these are predicated on a quantum model of physical behavior. For this reason, a quantum interpretation of chemistry provides a unifying model that cuts across all chemical behavior. Epistemologically, the sciences rely upon and appeal to underlying models to pose research questions and interpret empirical results. As a science develops, the models drawn upon develop and sometimes dramatically change. Moreover, the model becomes codified for future scientists in the contemporary textbooks/curricular materials (Kuhn 1970).
With the goal that the quantum model of chemistry be properly supported within the chemistry curriculum, this research is part of a project to design software and supporting instructional materials to provide a coherent introduction to quantum concepts at an early stage in the undergraduate curriculum. The motivation is our team’s perception that chemistry as a field is changing as contemporary research focuses on atomic and molecular manipulation. Our objective is to develop materials that will support the transition of the current general chemistry course to that of the year 2050 which we imagine will rely more heavily on the teaching of quantum theory.
In presentations of our development work at meetings of the American Chemical Society, members of our team have found themselves the focus of strident attacks by chemistry instructors who vehemently denounced the teaching of quantum concepts in chemistry. Further, in private conversations with both college and high school chemistry instructors, we have found that many admit that their own command of quantum mechanics was not what they wished it was.
If the materials we are developing are to be incorporated in general chemistry courses and, more generally, if the general chemistry course is to evolve in a manner that more closely reflects modern research and technology, then it is necessary to understand the sources of resistance to this content evolution.
Objectives of the Study
This is a study of the attitudes towards instruction of quantum theory by instructors of general chemistry. Quantum concepts are difficult for instructors to teach and for students to learn. Working with a small cohort of chemistry instructors, we are attempting to dissect the reasons for their choice of quantum concepts to teach, and the context in which they place them. Specifically, we would like to determine if their choices are due to:
lack of a coherent quantum model of chemistry;
belief that their students cannot master such abstract topics; or,
belief that quantum concepts are not central to chemistry and that other topics deserve greater emphasis.
Design and Procedure
In 2003, six chemistry instructors from diverse institutions were selected as consultants to our project. These instructors were invited to what we styled a “consulting” workshop. The consultants were aware that they would be shown newly developed software and asked to evaluate it. In addition to requesting their input on our materials, we also asked them to answer a number of surveys intended to gauge their attitudes to instruction in quantum concepts and to our workshop. In 2004, these same instructors were invited back to view new software, and
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