Journal of Adult Development

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 139-150

First online:

University Students' Conceptions of Different Physical Phenomena

  • Eve KikasAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Tartu

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The purpose of this study was to examine how widespread university students' misconceptions of 3 physical phenomena were: namely, the motions of objects, seasonal changes, and aggregate changes of matter. One hundred and thirty-two university students completed a written questionnaire composed of 2 types of tasks. First, students evaluated the adequacy of a given explanation as compared to their knowledge of the contemporary scientific explanation. Four types of explanations were provided—a simple description, 2 explanations with misconceptions, and a scientific explanation. Second, students were asked solve different problems. The results of the second part confirmed previous findings about misconceptions (e.g., usage of impetus and distance theories). However, the results of the evaluation tasks showed more heterogeneity in students' understanding. Students preferred causal explanations but not simple descriptions; they gave the highest evaluation to the scientifically correct explanations.

misconceptions scientific concepts heterogeneity of concepts university students