If the download does not begin automatically, please click here

Teaching Quantum Interpretations: Revisiting the goals and practices of introductory quantum physics courses

Physical Review Special Topics: Physics Education Research - Focused Collection on Upper-Division PER (submitted)

Charles Baily1 and Noah D. Finkelstein2

1School of Physics and Astronomy, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9SS Scotland, UK
2Department of Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0390, USA

Abstract: Most introductory quantum physics instructors would agree that transitioning students from classical to quantum thinking is an important learning goal, but may disagree on whether or how this can be accomplished. Although (and perhaps because) physicists have long debated the interpretation of quantum theory, many instructors choose to avoid emphasizing interpretive themes; or they discuss the views of scientists but do not adequately attend to student interpretations. This paper provides evidence-based arguments for an instructional approach that explicitly integrates the physical interpretation of quantum mechanics into introductory modern physics courses. In this synthesis and extension of prior work, we demonstrate: (1) instructors vary in their approaches to teaching interpretive themes; (2) specific instructional approaches can have significant impacts on student thinking; (3) when student interpretations go unattended, they often develop their own (sometimes scientifically undesirable) views; and (4) explicit and consistent discussions of interpretive themes can help students to develop more sophisticated perspectives, more accurate notions of uncertainty, and greater interest in quantum physics.

Keywords: physics education research, quantum mechanics, interpretation.
PACS: 01.40.Fk, 01.40.Ha, 03.65-w