ERIC Number: EJ1033412
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2014-Aug
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: N/A
College Chemistry Students' Understanding of Potential Energy in the Context of Atomic-Molecular Interactions
Becker, Nicole M.; Cooper, Melanie M.
Journal of Research in Science Teaching, v51 n6 p789-808 Aug 2014
Understanding the energy changes that occur as atoms and molecules interact forms the foundation for understanding the macroscopic energy changes that accompany chemical processes. In order to identify ways to scaffold students' understanding of the connections between atomic-molecular and macroscopic energy perspectives, we conducted a qualitative study of students' conceptualization of potential energy at the atomic-molecular level. We used semi-structured interviews and open-ended surveys to explore how students understand potential energy and use the idea of potential energy to explain atomic-molecular interactions in simple systems. Findings suggest that undergraduate chemistry students may rely on intuitive interpretations of potential energy, incorrect interpretations of curricular definitions (including the idea that potential energy represents stored energy) and heuristics rather than foundational understandings of the relationships between atomic-molecular structure, electrostatic forces and energy. Thus, we suggest that more explicit attention to the nature and role of potential energy in the undergraduate chemistry curriculum may be needed.
Descriptors: Science Instruction, College Science, Energy, Molecular Structure, Scientific Concepts, Qualitative Research, Semi Structured Interviews, Student Surveys, Concept Formation, Undergraduate Study
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Authoring Institution: N/A