Conceptual difficulties experienced by senior high school students of electrochemistry: Electrochemical (galvanic) and electrolytic cells



This research investigated students' understanding of electrochemistry following a 7–9-week course of instruction. A list of conceptual and propositional knowledge statements was formulated, and this provided the framework for semistructured interviews that were conducted with 32 students in their final year of high school chemistry, following instruction in electrochemistry. Three misconceptions identified in this study and five which have been reported earlier are incorporated into an alternative framework about electric current. The framework is grounded on the notion that a current always involves drifting electrons, even in solution. Another area where students' misconceptions were prevalent was in relation to the sign of the anode and cathode. Students who thought the anode was negatively charged believed cations would move toward it, and those who thought it was positively charged were unable to explain why electrons move away from it. Electrolytic cells also proved troublesome for students. Many students did not associate the positions of the anode and cathode with the polarity of the applied electromotive force (e.m.f.). Other students attempted to reverse features of electrochemical cells and apply the reversals to electrolytic cells. The implications of the research relate to students' interpretation of the language that is used to describe scientific phenomena and the tendency for students to overgeneralize, due to comments made by teachers or statements in textbooks.