An investigation of the conceptual change process of beginning college level physics students studying newton's laws
Patterson, Philip Edward
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Students who successfully undergo conceptual change utilize certain cognitive strategies to accomplish conceptual change. Conceptual change has two components: capture depending upon the intelligibility, plausibility, and fruitfulness of a new concept to a student. And, exchange which requires dissatisfaction with an existing concept prior to the acceptance for a suitable replacement. The literature also lists awareness, evaluation, regulation and reflection as variables associated with conceptual change. Taken as a whole, these components help students to develop strategies for conceptual change. This investigation utilized constructivist theory as its theoretical framework and employed the case study approach to explore and describe the processes of conceptual change undertaken by students studying Newton's Laws in a beginning college physics course. The specific research questions were as follows: (1) What are the strategies used by students who are successful in undergoing conceptual change when studying Newton's Laws?(2) What are the strategies used by students who are not successful in undergoing conceptual change when studying Newton's Laws? (3) What is the relationship between the kind, complexity and difficulty of the concepts in an experiment and the resulting conceptual change? The researcher utilized the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) as the pre test to assess the student participant’s understanding of concepts associated with Newton’s Laws and identified the two concepts that were least understood on the basis of the test. The researcher then randomly selected two groups of five students, each assigned to study one of the two misconceptions. The first misconception was associated with a question that asked the students to identify the forces acting on the hockey puck through its trajectory. Of this group, only three of the five participants underwent conceptual change. Upon reviewing the conceptual change strategies, two of the participants utilized awareness, evaluation and regulation, and reflection. Only two participants utilized all four characteristics of dissatisfaction, intelligibility, plausibility, and fruitfulness. The second misconception was related to an elevator moving upward in an elevator shaft at constant speed. Only one participant utilized all four conceptual change strategies: awareness, evaluation, regulation and reflection. He used only three of the four characteristics associated with the Conceptual Change Model: intelligibility, plausibility, and fruitfulness. Explanations for these findings are rooted in constructivist theory in which conceptual change occurred when the understanding of key concepts formed the foundation for the construction of subsequent key concepts.