AAS 197, January 2001
Session 98. Innovations in Teaching Astronomy II
Joint Oral, Wednesday, January 10, 2001, 1:30-3:00pm, Royal Palm 3/4

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[98.01] Students' Conceptions of Light and Color and How They Change

P.M. Sadler (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)

It seems quite reasonable to assume that students have the prerequisite knowledge needed to begin to understand the role of light in our introductory astronomy courses. Most courses start assuming students are aware that vision is a passive process. Yet, our students' conceptions are similar to those held by the scientists of ancient Greece, in spite of a lifetime of experience with the phenomena of light and color. Our interviews with students and their answers to test questions have helped us understand the sequence of models that students move through on their way to scientific understanding of the interaction of light with matter. We have developed interventions that help them construct and test these models. Our methods include developing demonstrations that serve to confront and disprove misconceptions, creating devices to help students explore terrestrial spectra, employing qualitative questions for class discussion, and using a succession of models that increase in their cognitive demand and predictive power. We have found that the popular approach of using a wave model to describe light is counterproductive for most students, since a particle model explains most phenomena that they encounter.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: psadler@cfa.harvard.edu

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