Learning from physics instruction

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Abstract

Forty high school students participated in a study to investigate learning and remembering from physics instruction. At pretest, students received aptitude tests, an alternate form of achievement test (counterbalanced) and a word association (WA) test. Then the 40 students were divided into instruction (N = 28) and control (N = 12) groups. The control group received all subsequent tests but no instruction. The instruction group received physics instruction over five 2-hour sessions. At the end of each session, the WA test was administered; the alternate form of the achievement test was administered at the end of the last session.

The instruction and control groups did not differ significantly in achievement at pretest. The instruction group showed a significant gain from pre- to posttest; no such gain was found for the control group. The instruction and control groups did not differ on the number of responses generated on the WA test at pretesting. The number of responses given by students in the instruction group increased significantly from test 1 (pretest) to test 6 (posttest). For the control group, the number of responses increased initially and then leveled out well below the instruction group data. When WA test responses were tallied for “constrained” responses (i.e., tallying only those concepts found in equations defining the stimulus word), the number of constrained responses increased consistently for the instruction group. For the control group, constrained responses showed an initial increase and then leveled out well below instruction group data.

Finally, the aptitude, achievement, and WA data were intercorrelated. This analysis suggests that for students who perform well in solving problems at the end of instruction, the physics concepts became meaningful soon after they were introduced. Subsequently, these students were able to consolidate, in memory, the meaning of the concepts and the interrelations among these concepts in the form of equations. Students not able to solve problems at the end of instruction seemed to be completing the process of acquiring the meaning of the concepts.

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