7-11 July 2014
Africa/Johannesburg timezone
<a href="http://events.saip.org.za/internalPage.py?pageId=16&confId=34"><font color=#0000ff>SAIP2014 Proceedings published on 17 April 2015</font></a>

An evaluation of students’ understanding of Newtonian Mechanics

10 Jul 2014, 10:20
D Les 310

D Les 310

Oral Presentation Track E - Physics Education Education


Prof. Deena Naidoo (University of the Witwatersrand)

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The Force Concept Inventory (FCI) pretest comprising of 30 multiple choice questions was administered at the commencement of the academic year to ~950 Engineering students registered for a full-year Mechanics I course. The purpose of the diagnostic assessment was to acquire information on students’ prior knowledge of their understanding of basics concepts of Newtonian Mechanics. In addition, this instrument has been utilized to ascertain areas of weakness in students’ understanding which could be targeted during the academic year and to evaluate the possibility of applying the test to assess the effectiveness of instruction. The class attained a weak average mark of 33% which is similar to results reported previously.

In order to ascertain whether the FCI data gives evidence of any correlation to interactive classroom activities, the results of the first class test based on dimensional analysis, force vectors and vector operations in vector geometry and vector algebra formulation were compared with the FCI responses. We found a roughly linear correspondence with R2~0.16. The classroom activities included the use of “clickers” in the majority of lectures coupled with more focused co-operative group work in tutorial sessions. The class average for the test was ~53% and the pass rate in the region of 56%. Although the test coverage was limited to a very small basic component of Mechanics, a refined analysis shows that students who performed well in the FCI test also produced good class test results – amongst students who got 60% or more for the FCI, the pass rate for the class test was ~88% and of the students who failed the class test, only ~3% got 60% or more for the FCI. Conversely, competence in the class test was not strongly correlated with the FCI test – of the students who passed the class test, only ~16% got 60% or more for the FCI while the class test pass rate amongst students who got less than 60% for the FCI was 52%. It should be noted that students in general performed much better in the class test. In order to validate these preliminary findings, upcoming class tests and examinations scores will be compared with the FCI test results. The impact of teaching and learning will be re-evaluated by conducting a FCI post-test after the completion of the syllabus on statics and dynamics.

Primary author

Prof. Deena Naidoo (University of the Witwatersrand)


Mr Douglas Clerk (University of the Witwatersrand) Prof. Kevin Goldstein (University of the Witwatersrand)

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