Misconceptions or Alternative Conceptions?
“The use of the word ‘misconception’ lends a heft to the student’s thinking that just may not be there. What and how they think is highly plastic and often only codified by researchers: the more subtle amongst them acknowledge that these thought patterns are transitory, often heavily influenced by context and do not seek the coherence that formal study seeks to bring. That’s why the Wrong Track / Right Lines dichotomy evolved. Nothing is yet fixed. Students are just passing through. ‘Conceptions’ is a rather overblown term to codify the halting pointing, mumbling and incomplete gesticulating … Not that it’s wrong; just that you need to bear in mind, not only that large numbers of people might seem to think in a particular way, but also that that given a slightly different set of clues, they’ll seem to be thinking in an entirely different way.” Ian Lawrence (iop: talkphysics.org)
- Making sense of secondary science: research into children’s ideas by R Driver et al, Routledge, 1994.
- Children’s ideas in Science by Rosalind Driver, Edith Guesne and Andre Tiberghien, Open University Press, 1985
- Learning in Science by Roger Osborne and Peter Freyberg, Heinemann, 1985
- Children’s Informal Ideas in Science by Paul Black, Routledge, 1983
- The Content of Science by Peter Fensham, Richard Gunstone and Richard White, Routledge, 1994
Resources from Physics Teachers’ Conferences
A powerpoint presentation by Dr Barbara MacKinnon from Kew High School as part of the karaoke session at the 2016 Physics Teachers’ Conference.
Material from the workshop by Pam Mulhall, University of Melbourne at the 2011 Physics Teachers Conference.
The powerpoint of Prof Dick Gunstone’s presentation at Unit 3 Course Planning Days in Nov 2016.
This website contains many articles on a large range of topics, including Students’ Knowledge & Learning, Teachers’ Attitudes and Practices, and Planning and Analysis of Teaching Situations. They were produced by the International Commission on Physics Education (ICPE). There are now two volumes. Volume 2 has not been fully analysed yet, but Volume 1 has the following articles of interest :a) Students’ conceptions and problem solving in mechanics by Lillian McDermott, University of Washington. b) Learning and understanding key concepts of electricity by Reinders Duit, University of Kiel and Christoph von Rhöneck, Pädagogische Hochschule Ludwigsburg. c) Teaching Introductory Electricity by Dimitris Psillos, University of Thessaloniki. d) Teaching for conceptual change; a review of strategies by Phil Scott, H.M. Asoko, Rosalind Driver, Children’s Learning in Science Research Group, University of Leeds. There is also commentary of the first three papers.
Deakin University has an extensive set of activities for Science Years 5 to 10, that addresses many common alternative conceptions of students. It has sections on i) Astronomy, ii) Earth’s climate, iii) Earth’s structure, iv) Electricity, v) Force, Motion and Machines, vi) Light, vii) Magnetism, viii) Sound, ix) Water and a few Chemistry topics. Each section opens with a list of key concepts expressed in simple clear language, as well as a list of common alternative conceptions. At the bottom of the page is a link to a pdf file of activities and resources.
CUPs is a set of teaching procedures for physics developed by Monash University. They are designed to aid the development of understanding of concepts that students find difficult. There are 12 activities, 10 on Forces, Energy and Motion, and 2 on Electricity. The link above is to an article about their use. The activities are available here.
A set of Youtube videos, 24 in number, that explore alternative conceptions in various physics scenarios. The videos are short, about 3 min, and are done in a humorous and provocative way.
A list of students’ misconceptions in Science: astronomy (26), atmosphere (18), colour and vision (20), electricity (10), energy (13), forces and motion (20), forces and fluids (13), heat and temperature (14), light (30), lithosphere (9), magnets and magnetism (6), properties of matter (19), measurement (27), sound (12), space (19), work and power (4). The list is compiled by Operation physics, an elementary / middle school physics educationoutreach project of the American Institute of Physics.
This is a 10 page pdf document on ‘Preconceptions and Misconceptions: A Guide to Enhancing Conceptual Understanding’. It is specifically on high school physics. It has a seven stage strategy for ‘Successful Implementation of a Conceptual Approach’ as well as several preconceptions or misconceptions for specific aspects for each of the following topics: motion, light, relativity, electromagnetism, modern physics and atomic physics. It is from the resources produced by the C3P project: Comprehensive Conceptual Curriculum for Physics, a NSF funded initiative by the University of Dallas.
A 16 page pdf file of a talk by Prof Richard P. Olenick, University of Dallas, who established C3P: Comprehensive Conceptual Curriculum for Physics. It is a ‘research-based physics curriculum that utilises a learning cycle approach appropriate for all high school students’. The website still opens, but some of its links to resources are no longer active.
This is a section of the UK’s Department of Education website for Science Education. It lists statements that students often think on ‘The Scientific Method: How Science Works’. The ‘barriers to learning’ is one of four sections the other three give i) the two ‘threads’ on skills that students should develop, ii) elements of how science works, and iii) amplification which lists documents that can be downloaded which detail yearly objectives, progression and rich questions.
This publication is a 2.5 MB zip file, The material is from the UK’s Department of Education website for science. It is part of a package that can be used as an optional training program. There is also a resource pack and notes for tutors that can be downloaded.
These are papers from international conferences held in 1993 and 1997 before pdf by the Meaningful Learning Research Group. Philanthropic funds have enabled their availability. There are 278 papers across the range of science, they are research papers, but many are relevant to physics classroom practice, these include: problem solving strategies, relativity, weight and gravitation,electric circuits, etc
Forces and Motion
This document describes the extensive range of information on students’ misconceptions in science available on the VELS website. A summary of one example is included that of ‘Forces on passengers’.
Link to VELS resource on ‘Forces on passengers’ looking at ‘contrasting student and scientific views’, critical teaching ideas and teaching activities.
Minds*On Physics is a “constructivist, active-learning curriculum for high school physics” produced by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Select ‘Sample MOP Activities’ to access about 28 activities on Motion. Each is about 4 pages long and they are in pdf format.
This is a section of the UK’s Department of Education website for Science Education. It lists statements that students often think on ‘identifying, measuring and representing forces’ under the headings: Forces, Forces and motion, Forces and turning effects, and Forces and pressure. The ‘barriers to learning’ is one of six sections on ‘Forces’ the other five give i) the two ‘threads’ on forces that students’ thinking will develop, ii) advice of using a constructivist approach, iii)teaching ideas, iv) amplification which lists documents that can be downloaded which detail yearly objectives, progression and rich questions and v) pathway: a concept map showing how the concepts are linked.
The Force Concept Inventory (FCI) is designed to assess student understanding of Forces. It consists of 30 multiple choice questions on kinematics, Newton’s First, Second, and Third Laws, the superposition principle, and types of forces (such as gravitation, friction). Each question has distracters that reflect common misconceptions. The FCI is described half way down the page, a password needs to be requested before the FCI can be downloaded. There is also a Mechanics Baseline Test (MBT) available at this website. The MBT is a step beyond the FCI and can be used as a post test. It also requires a password. The FCI now comes in different versions: a Gender FCI, an animated FCI and a familiar context FCI as well as numerous languages. Also check here.
This is a pdf file of a Energy Concept Inventory, prepared by Michigan State University. It contains 35 multiple choice items.
Link to VELS resource on ‘Newton’s Understanding of Forces and Motion’ looking at ‘contrasting student and scientific views’, critical teaching ideas, teaching activities and further resources.
An article by Drs Gang Liu and Ning Fang of Utah State University in the International Journal of Engineering Education. (10 page pdf)
10 page article on ‘Some models for developing beginning students’ understanding of Electric Circuits’. Presented by Dr Christina Hart at the 2007 and 2008 Physics Teachers Conferences.
3 page article on ‘Models for DC Circuits’. Presented by Dr Christina Hart at the 2011 Physics Teachers Conferences.
The PowerPoint file from the presentation by Dr Christina Hart at the 2011 Physics Teachers Conferences.
This website by William J Beaty features 16 misconceptions on electricity in general, each linked to a detailed explanation. There are also 8 misconceptions specifically on static electricity and 10 on current electricity, also with detailed explanations. There are links to several of his articles at the bottom of the page.
This is a section of the UK’s Department of Education website for Science Education. It lists statements that students often think under the headings: Energy transfer by heating, sound, light, electric current and in biosystems. The ‘barriers to learning’ is one of six sections on ‘Energy transfer and electricity’ the other five give i) the three ‘threads’ on energy that students’ thinking will develop, ii) description of energy as an abstract, mathematical idea, iii)teaching ideas, iv) amplification which lists documents that can be downloaded which detail yearly objectives, progression and rich questions and v) pathway: a concept map showing how the concepts are linked.
Link to VELS resource on Making Sense of Voltage’ looking at ‘contrasting student and scientific views’, critical teaching ideas and teaching activities.
Resources: Audio files from recent Physics Teachers Conferences
Dr Peter Hubber, Deakin university
Resources: Support documents from Dr McKinnon’s talk at the 2009 Physics Teachers Conference
Manual for scoring responses to the ‘Alternative Conceptions in Astronomy’ Test. 32 pages.
A ranked and scored list of ‘Alternative Conceptions in Astronomy’. 2 pages.
The actual test on ‘Alternative Conceptions in Astronomy’. Southern hemisphere version 1.01. 11 pages.
Report of the Eye Observatory Remote Telescope Project: Practical Astronomy for Years 7, 8 and 9.A Research and Development Report prepared for the Department of Education, Science and Training by David H. McKinnon, Charles Sturt University 206 page pdf file.
This is a section of the UK’s Department of Education website for Science Education. It lists statements that students often think on the solar system. The ‘barriers to learning’ is one of four sections, the other three give i) the learning outcomes, ii) amplification which lists documents that can be downloaded which detail yearly objectives, progression and rich questions and iii) pathway: a concept map showing how the concepts are linked.