Preconceptions in Mechanics

Lessons dealing with conceptual difficulties
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by Charles Camp and John Clement. Contributing authors: David Brown, Kimberly Gonzalez, John Kudukey, James Minstrell, Klaus Schultz, Melvin Steinberg, Valerie Veneman, and Aletta Zietsman. College Park, MD: American Association of Physics Teachers. Second Edition 2010.

The nine units in this high school physics curriculum focus on areas where students have exhibited qualitative preconceptions --- ideas that they bring to class with them prior to instruction in physics. Research has shown that certain preconceptions conflict with the physicist's point of view. It has also shown that some of these conflicting preconceptions are quite persistent and seem to resist change in the face of normal instructional techniques. The motivating idea for this book is to provide a set of lessons that are aimed specifically at these particularly troublesome areas and that use special techniques for dealing with them. Ideas in the lessons can be used to supplement any course that includes mechanics.

Many preconceptions that pose difficulties are not simply random errors, nor are they due to inattention or failure to remember key ideas. To help a student learn physics in areas where there are persistent preconceptions, these lessons use a number of special strategies. Most lessons are built around a target problem (a problem designed to draw out a conflicting preconception that has been shown to be present in many students). Another strategy is the use of anchoring analogies or examples--situations where many students' intuitions are in agreement with the physicist's view. Such an intuition can be developed as a rival to, and eventually predominate over, a conflicting preconception.