Tao and Gunstone, 1998

This study, based in Australia and Hong Kong, explored misconceptions around forces and motion and discusses conceptual-change approaches, including the use of computer simulations in students aged 15–16-year-old.

Evidence-based suggestions

  • To achieve conceptual change, students need to be able to look across a wide range of contexts and identify the commonalities.
  • Students will cycle between scientific and alternative conceptions from one context to another.
  • Many students will face difficulty transferring learning from one context to another and should be reminded of analogous contexts.

Learners’ ideas

  • Students commonly confuse force and motion or believe that forces can be ‘used up’ during motion.
  • Students believed that a force will always cause an object to immediately move in the direction of the force, rather than just accelerating in that direction.
  • Students believe a stationary object must have no forces acting on it.
  • Many students believe that a constant force will result in a constant speed and only a chance in force will cause acceleration.

Study Structure


The study aimed to investigate the nature and process of conceptual change by answering two research questions:

  1. How effective is conceptual conflict in fostering conceptual change?
  2. Is conceptual change realized as a development (addition), a replacement of alternative conceptions, the coexistence of a range of conceptions with each coming into play in a specific context, or some other process?

Evidence collection

Four computer simulation programs, with three of them accompanied by worksheets, were developed to provoke conceptual conflicts and facilitate conceptual change among students. These students worked in pairs on a series of tasks while being audio recorded, the transcripts of which constituted the primary data source for the study. Subsequently, a 15-question multiple-choice test was administered to gather students' opinions on the computer programs.

Overall, data was collected through pre-tests, post-tests, delayed post-tests, and student interviews conducted at various stages of the study. The analysis focused on four dimensions: alternative conceptions of force and motion, the relationship between motion and force, the effects of force, and conceptual conflicts.

Details of the sample

The sample consisted of 27 15–16-year-old students in a science class from a Catholic boys' high school in Melbourne. In this school students were regarded as generally of average ability, science staff were appreciative of the conceptual change instructional strategy, and it had suitable and adequate computer facilities for running the computer programs.

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