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Upper-Level College Chemistry Students' Concepts of the Particulate Nature of Matter

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Master's Thesis

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Democritus suggested that certain observations made of objects and of changes can be explained by the idea of tiny indivisible particles of matter, which could not be directly observed by the senses. The theory of the particulate nature of matter PNM is a central concept in chemistry and pivots on the belief that all matter consists of individual particles and this core belief lends itself to an explanation of various observable phenomena such as changes in molecular connectivity, geometry, aggregation, state, and concentration. The explanatory power of this theory is also the basis of understanding for other chemistry-related topics such as acid-base reactions, electrochemistry, solubility, kinetics, and statistical thermodynamics. As will be discussed in-depth, learning in general and more specifically the learning about the particulate nature of matter is an individual process for each individual learner, because the meaning a learner assigns to concepts like PNM is based on individual variables. It is the individualized conceptions of PNM that are the subject of this study. It is widely accepted that the information relayed by an educator is not necessarily what is gained by the learner, and as such, learners often tend to form meanings of concepts that greatly vary from the educators original intent. An attempt is made by the science education community to expose the PNM conceptions formed by elementary, secondary, and college students during the learning process. A majority of these published works tend not to focus on the whole conceptions of PNM, but rather focus on how learners conceptions differ from what is scientifically accepted. These variant types of conceptions have been identified by several terms including alternative conceptions, misconceptions, preconceptions, and everyday conceptions. What is not represented by the body of literature is the conceptions of PNM within the population of upper-level college students.

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  • Physical Chemistry

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