Do your students accept atoms as real? Or, perhaps, because they have heard so much about atoms, they simply repeat those descriptions. Could they convince someone else that atoms are real?
At the University of Texas at Dallas, I have taught the junior level Physical Chemistry course (required for Chemistry majors). In the quantum mechanics semester of that course, I have started the class off with a homework assignment in which these students are required to develop a definition of an atom and to assemble experimental data that will convince other people with technical training that atoms are real.
The homework assignment is here.
Most of the students have trouble developing a good definition of an atom, and they rarely present modern experimental data and a well-reasoned argument using that data.
In the words of one very good Physical Chemistry student, “When I got the assignment, I thought it was easy. By the time I finished it, I thought it was hard.”
Even good college chemistry students have not really thought through the idea of an atom; they are repeating material from their prior courses.
Let’s use the challenge of this homework assignment – to define “atoms” and assemble experimental data to show other people that there are compelling reasons to accept the reality of atoms – as a springboard for getting ready to teach pre-high school students.