Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thesis - Students` Depictions of Quantum Mechanics

This is a rather "entertaining" thesis (when was the last time you could say that about a thesis?) by someone going for a degree in the Philosophy of Science. It studies the teaching and learning process of students in the subject of quantum mechanics.

Not sure if this person would find a tracking link back to this blog entry. But if he does, I would certainly welcome any additional comments that he would have.



Itangalo said...

W00t! Someone read my thesis, and liked it! (or at least found it entertaining...) =D =D =D

I'm curious: What did you find entertaining about the thesis? And how/why did you find it in the first place?

Well, I decided to quit my PhD studies when I got a (really nice) offer to become science journalist. I sometimes miss my research subject - which I didn't get bored of even once for the two years I persued it - but some of the working conditions as PhD student were not good at all.

(Any comments to this blog post or the thesis are also welcome at - though I'll try my best to revisit this page.)

//Johan, Sweden

PS: My degree would have been in physics, not in philosophy of science. It may seem a bit weird, and has sparked some debate at the physics department where I worked.

ZapperZ said...

Hey, I'm glad you found the blog! :)

What do I find entertaining about it? Well, if you've read my blog, you'll notice that one of my most "favorite" topic is the "bastardization" of QM by people who didn't know any better. So I've always had a fascination on how students and the general public understands QM, and the process they go through in trying to understand it. There's also a lot of misconception of the various aspects of QM. I've written on on the HUP where many people (even physicists) continue to make the same misconception about it.

So it is always something of interest on how we teach students QM properly, and what exactly they understood what they've being taught. I'm glad someone has made a study on this. I've read, I think, a couple of other published papers on similar studies, but of course, they're not in such details as what can be found in a thesis.

I don't know how I found your thesis. I'm guessing I was doing a search on something and the link to your thesis was one of those that came up. It's one of those things I do often as I surf the web for topics to talk on in my blog.

I'd love to hear from you if you have any additional comments about your work, or some personal insights that you had that wasn't in your thesis. I am also very interested in your experience as a science journalist, so would like to hear more if you care to write about it.


Itangalo said...

"if you have any additional comments about your work" Are you kidding? You know it's dangerous to ask a PhD student about his/her research topic, right?

Well... I have a few general thought that wasn't really voiced in the thesis.
The most important one is that there exists pretty much research on teaching/learning QM, but teachers do not care very much about it. (This is based on experiences from Sweden, I might say.) This of course has implications for education research - it should be just as important to make results known and used, as it is to make the actual research.
This problem is maybe not a research problem, but more of a political one. But it is one that education researchers must acknowledge and try to find solutions to.

On that topic, I am considering to start a website gathering and sharing information on teaching and learning quantum mechanics. It could be an easy way of creating a discussion among those who actually are interested in improving teaching and learning of QM. The site could of course contain categorized lists of relevant education research, but also discussions, teaching resources and whatever members would like to share.
The catch is that the site might not leave the ground, if there are not enough members (or the members aren't active enough).
On the other hand, if just three teachers find the site useful, you could still consider it worth creating it.

I have some more thoughts from the thesis, but this will do for now.

"I am also very interested in your experience as a science journalist, so would like to hear more if you care to write about it."

What kind of experiences do you mean?
I'll make a stab at some kind of answer...
First, at the paper I work for I have the luxory of having enough time to make every article rather good. (That is, not incorrect and not exaggerated.) Most daily newspaper don't have that luxory - they have to work quickly and the stories must sell.
On the other hand, a not-bad story is not the same as a good story. I have discovered that my best articles deal with subjects I am interested in. Some articles become "good" - they tell something interesting in an interesting way - while others are just ok - telling something rather interesting in a rather interesting way.

By the way, thanks for an interesting blog. I've been reading parts of it now, and I'm going to check back on in every once in a while.
(And thanks for pointing out the McKagan's paper on teaching the Bohr model! I will definately read it in a near future. But I must say that I disagree with you on the Bohr model matter - I think that the Bohr model does more harm than good. Teaching it because of historical reasons might be OK, but it shouldn't really be in physics or chemistry then. You could just as well argue that you should teach about alchemy or Aristotelian physics.)

By the way 2: I figured out that you're a physicist. What do you do, and where? Do you also teach?

//Johan Falk, Sweden

ZapperZ said...

Regarding the Bohr Model, if you notice, I emphasized the teaching of it in the context of its historical significance. I believe that HOW it is taught is important, and that the instructor MUST emphasize that, as in many area of physics, we tend to make highly simplified model that later turns out not to be accurate. If the students are told this and the fact that it is no longer a valid description of the atom, I think teaching it can be a valuable illustration of the "scientific method". We also, for example, do not discard the Drude model for charge transport in metals, even though we know that this isn't an accurate description of this phenomenon under many circumstances. But it is useful and does its job in most cases.

As for me, I'm a physicist at a US Nat'l lab. I have a background in condensed matter physics, but currently works in the field of accelerator physics. And no, I don't teach, at least, not now.