Introduction to Light Properties and Basic Principles of Spectroscopy at the High-School Level: A Pilot Study
- To avoid the “black-box” approach to spectrophotometers and similar instruments ;
- To make instruments more accessible for high-school teachers (and less expensive) ;
- To increase the versatility of the spectroscopic instruments ;
- To use a multidisciplinary approach to teach spectroscopy—for instance, by adopting the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) approach .
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. The Theoretical Framework and the Methodological Approaches
- Observation: A phenomenon is presented by an experiment, and students observe it.
- Description: Students are required to describe and to draw the observed phenomenon by filling in a form (see, for instance, some examples in the Supplementary Materials). This work helps students to recognise the basic features of a phenomenon and promotes careful and critical observation.
- Reflection: During a lesson or an activity, the teacher comments on the students’ answers and the contents of the description forms in a collective discussion with all students. During this step, an inquiry-based learning process starts. For instance, during this step, the teacher can use a digital tool to present the critical issues that emerge in the “Description” forms. A collective discussion usually starts from controversial aspects or different answers given by students to specific questions. According to the constructivist approach, these controversial aspects should induce students to critically re-elaborate their initial ideas, encouraging questioning and modelling of what they saw and understood during the observation step. After this collective reflection, students are required to fill in a “reflection form” (see some examples in the Supplementary Materials). This is an important part to promote students’ self-reflection on phenomena and their explanations of them.
- Explanatory: After a careful analysis of the observation forms and reflection forms filled in by students, and after the collective discussion, the teacher identifies the students’ cognitive obstacles and critical issues related to the specific concepts addressed during the didactic activity. Based on these, the teacher prepares a lesson to clarify the critical points, so as to explain some new key concepts reorganised in a clearer way.
- Exploratory: After the introduction of new concepts in the “explanatory lesson”, the teacher proposes a new inquiry-based activity in the laboratory. The aim of this step is to verify a concept or a theory, or to apply it by designing and carrying out an experiment.
2.2. The Participants
2.4. Assessment and Evaluation
3.1. Light Phenomena
- An adjustable slit can be used to explore two limiting situations: (a) if the slit width is much bigger than the wavelength of the laser (i.e., 2–3 mm), no diffraction is observed; (b) if the slit width is very small and it can be approximated to a point source (i.e., a few microns), no diffraction is observed. All intermediate situations give rise to a diffraction pattern. Indeed, students can observe the appearance of diffraction fringes when the width of the adjustable slit is of the same order of magnitude as the wavelength.
- Diaphragms with a single slit of a known width (commercially available, as reported in Section 2.3) can be used to show how diffraction patterns change by changing the slit width.
- Diaphragms with double slits with different known distances can be used to show the phenomenon of interference, which causes changes in the diffraction patterns.
- Several experiments with multiple slits (three, four, and five slits) can be performed to show how the fringes change in their intensity and shape due to the increasing number of slits (see the diffraction patterns in Figure 5).
- Different diffraction gratings (i.e., with 40, 80, 100, 500, and 1000 lines/mm) can be used to show the relationship between the number of lines/mm of the diffraction grating and the distance between the maxima of the intensity of the diffraction fringes.
- By using a diffraction grating with 500 or 1000 lines/mm, a similar experiment can be conducted using two lasers, such as red and green laser pointers, projecting the diffraction pattern at the same time. This experiment is very effective in showing the effects of different wavelengths on the diffraction patterns (for instance, see the zero and first orders of diffraction in Figure 6).
3.2. Introduction to the Spectroscope through a STEM Laboratory Approach
3.3. The Historical Approach to Introduce Spectroscopy
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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|Content-Specific Components||Final Considerations and Main Aspects of the Didactic Activity for the Introduction of Spectroscopy at the High-School Level|
|(1) Light is seen as made of straight rays and not of waves; |
(2) The concept of waves is not clear to almost all students;
(3) The origin of colours is unknown, and not all students know that white light contains all colours of the rainbow together.
|Curricular saliency||(1) Reflection, refraction, and diffraction phenomena are relevant in order to understand how light is guided and dispersed inside spectroscopic instruments;|
(2) Emission and absorption are real phenomena behind the absorbance algorithm.
|What is difficult or|
easy to teach
|(1) Equations used to explain optical phenomena, such as interference and diffraction, are too abstract and require mathematical tools that are not accessible to all students;|
(2) The wave nature of light is particularly hard to teach; in fact, learners cannot visualise the wave aspects of light;
(3) Interference and diffraction are combined phenomena that take place at the same time in most of the real cases; the Huygens–Fresnel principle cannot be proposed to high-school students;
(4) The absorbance, which learners usually read on the digital interface of an instrument, is associated with an algorithm of light intensity, which is the real measured quantity.
|Representations||(1) The visual representation of the concepts by approaching them with experiments (macroscopic or phenomenological level) is important for the learners, and it is a more direct and effective teaching approach;|
(2) Real images (i.e., photos and videos) of reflected, refracted, diffracted, emitted, and absorbed light are used instead of plots and graphical representations.
|A visual pathway is an interesting conceptual teaching strategy, and this aspect was optimised and used in the research approach described in this work.|
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Carpentieri, M.A.; Fano, G.; Jurinovich, S.; Domenici, V. Introduction to Light Properties and Basic Principles of Spectroscopy at the High-School Level: A Pilot Study. Educ. Sci. 2023, 13, 316. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci13030316
Carpentieri MA, Fano G, Jurinovich S, Domenici V. Introduction to Light Properties and Basic Principles of Spectroscopy at the High-School Level: A Pilot Study. Education Sciences. 2023; 13(3):316. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci13030316Chicago/Turabian Style
Carpentieri, Maria Antonietta, Gioia Fano, Sandro Jurinovich, and Valentina Domenici. 2023. "Introduction to Light Properties and Basic Principles of Spectroscopy at the High-School Level: A Pilot Study" Education Sciences 13, no. 3: 316. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci13030316