Characterizing Student Reasoning about Atomic Emission Spectra

Authors: 

Christopher J. Minter, Melanie M. Cooper, Justin H. Carmel

The goal of this study was to characterize general chemistry students' reasoning about atomic emission spectroscopy to gain insight into how students understand the mechanistic process for how atomic spectra are created and the extent to which they are able to connect that understanding to explain key features of spectra. We analyzed student explanations of atomic emission spectra and characterized their responses based on three criteria: (1) How do students explain the mechanism for how spectra are created, (2) To what extent do students reason mechanistically about how the different colored spectral lines are created, and (3) What alternative ideas are present within students’ reasoning. We present our 3-tiered approach to characterizing students’ explanations of atomic spectra and demonstrate how it can be used as a tool to assess student reasoning.

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