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Description of Senior Physics Courses

Senior level quantum mechanics comprises 12 lectures and covers the three-dimensional Schrödinger equation; Hydrogen-like atoms; Orbital angular momentum and spin; Radiation from excited atoms; Identical particles; Helium and other atoms; and molecules. The recommended textbook is Eisberg and Resnick Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei and Particles.

Students may choose to attend a further 12 lectures covering the interpretation of the Schrödinger Equation, the formalism of quantum mechanics, representations including matrix mechanics, Angular momentum and spin, Three dimensional Schrödinger Equation, Perturbation Theory and Approximation methods. The recommended reference for this more advanced stream is Bransden and Joachain, Introduction to Quantum Mechanics.

Additionally, a significant proportion of physics majors choose to study optional Nuclear and Particle Physics courses which cover quantum mechanical ideas and concepts for example topics covered include properties of the nucleus, particles and their families, the quark model, nuclear models, nuclear instability and decay, nuclear interactions, fission and fusion reactions, interaction of radiation and matter, and detection devices.

Assessment across all courses is dominated by a formal examination at the end of each semester.

3..2The School of Chemistry

The School of Chemistry currently consists of approximately 27 academic/research staff, more than 100 postgraduate students and some 20 administrative and technical staff. Chemistry is taught by the School to around 2200 students at all levels. Over 1800 of these take Junior (1st) year Chemistry courses of various types. About 200 of these students progress to Intermediate (2nd) year and a further 90 take Chemistry as a “major” in their Senior (3rd) year. The number of Honours (4th) year varies between around 25 to 40.
Description of Junior Chemistry Courses

Students studying chemistry at the junior level are enrolled in a range of Faculties including Arts, Medicine, Education, Engineering, Science and Veterinary Science. The School of Chemistry provides service courses in chemistry for dietetics, nutrition, molecular biology and genetics students. The remaining mainstream students have the choice of taking one of four junior chemistry courses: Fundamentals of Chemistry 1; Chemistry 1; Chemistry 1 Advanced; or Chemistry 1 (Special Studies Program). These four courses have essentially the same curriculum but are tailored to suit students of different chemistry backgrounds and abilities. The course Fundamentals of Chemistry 1 is especially designed for students who have no previous experience studying chemistry, while entry to Chemistry 1 Advanced is determined by the student’s UAI. The Special Studies Program targets students who are considered gifted and talented in chemistry and includes a mentoring program with a research chemist.

The Junior Chemistry courses do not specifically address quantum mechanics apart from a brief introduction to atomic structure, and descriptions of ionic and covalent bonding. The junior course focuses on organic compounds, heat of reactions, stoichiometry, reduction and oxidation. The students participate in lectures, tutorials and laboratory activities. The laboratories aim to enhance student conceptual understanding and teach skills needed by practising chemists.
Description of Intermediate and Senior Chemistry Courses

Intermediate and Senior chemistry is offered at advanced and normal levels and students are allocated to these classes based upon their academic performance in Junior Chemistry. In these later years the course is split into three strands covering the major research areas of the School: Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry and Physical/Theoretical Chemistry. Each strand incorporates lectures, tutorials, seminars and extensive laboratory experience.

The students’ exposure to ideas in quantum mechanics is extended as atomic and molecular modules are further developed. An orbital model is used to give a more sophisticated understanding of bonding. The use of spectroscopy as a tool in chemical identification is explored in great detail. For example, the School uses nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), mass spectroscopy, atomic absorption spectroscopy and infra red spectroscopy techniques extensively in research and discussion of these techniques is included in the Senior course.

Up to 25 Senior Chemistry students choose to take an optional course called Quantum Chemistry. The recommended references for this course are ^ Quantum Chemistry of Atoms and Molecules by Mathews, Molecular Quantum Mecahnics by Atkins and Friedman and Introduction to Molecular Orbitals by Jean and Volatron. Topics covered include: Schrödinger’s Equation; quantum mechanical operators; wave functions and their interpretation; the role of symmetry and its use in molecular orbital theory; quantisation tunnelling and covalent bonding.


In order to conduct research into how students go about learning the subject in these wide and diverse contexts, it was necessary to select appropriate methodologies and research tools. To this end a preliminary research project plan was developed based on the research setting and the range of available data sources

As researcher, I considered that a multi-methodological approach would be needed to adequately address the research questions proposed in Chapter 1; as the selection of a single research methodology, and following a prescribed path dictated by this choice, could possibly obscure other valid perspectives.

As the plan evolved it also proved a useful tool for communicating the basic framework of the study to non-educational researchers throughout the early stages of the study (refer Table 3-1).

^ Preliminary Research Project Plan

^ Generate Initial Research Questions

Proposed Strategy



Focus group discussions

Lecturer staff, research staff, post-graduate students

Development of a set of research questions covering attitude, content, learning and teaching

^ Literature Review

Proposed Strategy



Review a wide selection of related research articles in physics and chemistry educational research

Library databases, research articles

Clear understanding of the scope of related research

^ Identify Key Themes, Ideas and Concepts

Proposed Strategy



Enter the field with open and responsive research outlook

Mentors within the Faculty of Education

Adaptation of an appropriate research methodology

Collect and analyse data from a wide range of sources

Lecturers, students, researchers, examination scripts, lectures, tutorials, laboratories

Adaptation of appropriate data collection and analysis tools

Identify key categories

Analysis software

Awareness of emerging concepts

^ Develop an Interview Based Research Instrument

Proposed Strategy



Progressively focus toward the initial research questions

Adaptation of appropriate data analysis tools

Isolate the key areas of interest and the key aspects of quantum mechanics

Development of a set of interview questions

^ Conduct Interviews

Proposed Strategy



Interview lecturers and students

15 lecturers

60 Students

Development of a responsive interview protocol

Analyses interview data to identify themes

Categorisation of responses

^ Investigate the Variation in Understanding of

Key Quantum Mechanics Concepts

Proposed Strategy



Step back from the data and refocus on isolating a set of key concepts relating to the teaching and learning of quantum mechanics

Interview transcripts

Adaptation of appropriate research methodology and analysis tools

Mapping the variations in understanding

^ Link Results

Proposed Strategy



Analyse the results for trends and connections

Analysis software tools

Research findings

Table 3-1 : Preliminary Research Project Plan

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