Misconceptions and Naïve Ideas in Physics

The Practical Implications of Physics Education Research (PIPER) project aims to bring research evidence to bear on physics teaching, by allowing busy teachers access to evidence at the point that they need it: when planning lessons, developing curricula and developing their own practice.

Dr Mark Hardman of the UCL Institute of Education

It took us a few years to work out how best to do this, and what we should focus on though. Every classroom is unique, and whilst there is evidence around teaching and learning in physics, none of it should be seen as a prescription of what will work in each setting. We were also aware that some educational research is not easy for teachers to appropriate into their work, and that some research is not specific to physics teaching.

We have overcome these potential issues through some deliberate decisions around the focus and content of PIPER. Firstly, the project has focused initially on evidence around children and young people’s ideas in physics. A great deal of research was done around children’s ‘misconceptions’ from the late 1970s until the mid-1990s. This research tailed off as researchers began to question how children’s ideas change, and how far they can be seen as incorrect. Whilst the term ‘misconception’ is no longer used in conceptual change research therefore, many teachers recognise and use it. We continue to use the term within the project for this reason. We also consider the research which focuses on children’s ideas in physics to be of direct use to teachers, which is why some of the sources cited within the project are a little old, but still immensely useful to teachers we believe. Taking into account the ideas that children (and adults) hold about physics is important in teaching.

The IOPSpark Misconceptions page

The issue of applicability also came into our consideration of what should be done when misconceptions are encountered in the classroom, and how they should be anticipated. The online tool links misconceptions and domains of knowledge in physics with the IOP's wealth of evidence-informed resources for those domains. However, only teachers can make the decisions about what is most appropriate for their classes and pupils. We hope that by showing a range of ideas that children can hold in each physics domain, and presenting these along side research-informed resources, will support the use of evidence in physics teaching.

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