Comparative study of student understanding of some basic concepts in mechanics and electromagnetism
The results of physics education research, that come from studies carried out in many countries worldwide, have shown that students' understanding of basic concepts in physics is often inadequate. Students' alternative conceptions seem to play a major role, since they often interfere with the development of students' conceptual understanding in physics.
Three tests have been used in the
study: one designed by the author, which probed students' alternative
The test results show that Croatian students' understanding of basic concepts in the two investigated domains of physics is mostly inadequate, but also suggest that the role of alternative conceptions is not completely the same in mechanics and electromagnetism. The strongest students' alternative conceptions were found in mechanics. They sometimes persist even until advanced levels of physics learning and might present the biggest problem for the development of students' conceptual understanding in mechanics. The results of the FCI test have shown that only a small fraction of Croatian students (only 10% in a sample of high school graduates) are above the Newtonian threshold, which is defined as 60% on FCI. It has also been demonstrated that mechanics - related alternative conceptions cause conceptual problems in electromagnetism.
electromagnetism, most alternative conceptions were linked to electric circuits,
low confidence in their answers suggested that alternative conceptions in this
area may not be as strong as those in mechanics. In other
parts of electromagnetism alternative conceptions mostly originated from
students' tendencies to simplify complex abstract concepts or to reduce them to
simpler concepts. Through comparison of difficulties of six conceptual
areas in CSEM it was established that the most difficult area is the
electromagnetic induction, the second difficult areas being
It is suggested that interactive teaching methods could help in resolving students' conceptual difficulties in both domains of physics.