A Research-Based Curriculum for Teaching the Photoelectric Effect

by C. E. Wieman; K. K. Perkins; S. B. McKagan; W. Handley

Jun 10, 2008
Physics faculty consider the photoelectric effect important, but many erroneously believe it is easy for students to understand. We have developed curriculum on this topic including an interactive computer simulation, interactive lectures with peer instruction, and conceptual and mathematical homework problems. Our curriculum addresses established student difficulties and is designed to achieve two learning goals, for students to be able to (1) correctly predict the results of photoelectric effect experiments, and (2) describe how these results lead to the photon model of light. We designed two exam questions to test these learning goals. Our instruction leads to better student mastery of the first goal than either traditional instruction or previous reformed instruction, with approximately 85% of students correctly predicting the results of changes to the experimental conditions. On the question designed to test the second goal, most students are able to correctly state both the observations made in the photoelectric effect experiment and the inferences that can be made from these observations, but are less successful in drawing a clear logical connection between the observations and inferences. This is likely a symptom of a more general lack of the reasoning skills to logically draw inferences from observations.
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