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Some education researchers have claimed that we should not teach the Bohr model of the atom because it inhibits students’ ability to learn the true quantum nature of electrons in atoms. Although the evidence for this claim is weak, many have accepted it. This claim has implications for how to present atoms in classes ranging from elementary school to graduate school. We present results from a study designed to test this claim by developing a curriculum on models of the atom, including the Bohr and Schrödinger models. We examine student descriptions of atoms on final exams in transformed modern physics classes using various versions of this curriculum. We find that if the curriculum does not include sufficient connections between different models, many students still have a Bohr-like view of atoms rather than a more accurate Schrödinger model. However, with an improved curriculum designed to develop model-building skills and with better integration between different models, it is possible to get most students to describe atoms using the Schrödinger model. In comparing our results with previous research, we find that comparing and contrasting different models is a key feature of a curriculum that helps students move beyond the Bohr model and adopt Schrödinger’s view of the atom. We find that understanding the reasons for the development of models is much more difficult for students than understanding the features of the models. We also present interactive computer simulations designed to help students build models of the atom more effectively.
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