The effects of prior knowledge and instruction on understanding image formation



This paper reports on a study that was designed to investigate the knowledge about image formation exhibited by students following instruction in geometrical optics in an activity-based college physics course for prospective elementary teachers. Students were interviewed individually, using several tasks involving simple apparatus (plane and curved mirrors, lenses, and prisms). The diagrams drawn by the students and the verbal comments they made provide evidence that their knowledge can be described as an intermediate state, a hybridization of preinstruction knowledge (which is dominated by a holistic conceptualization) and formal physics knowledge. We infer from our data the core concepts and main ideas of the postinstruction students' hybrid knowledge. Finally, by comparing preinstruction and formal physics conceptualizations of image formation we argue that a strong type of knowledge restructuring (in the sense of Carey, S., 1986: American Psychologist, 41, 1123-1130; Vosianou, S., & Brewer, W.F., 1987: Review of Educational Research, 57, 51-67) is required for students to acquire the latter.