Determining the Intelligibility of Einsteinian Concepts with Middle School Students
The modern Einsteinian conception of space, time, matter and radiation represents a radical paradigm shift compared with the traditional Newtonian physics that underpins most primary and secondary school science. It is increasingly recognised that school education should encompass this modern paradigm to allow a seamless progression of learning throughout school education. The goal of the research presented in this paper was to test whether five core concepts of the Einsteinian paradigm could become conceptually intelligible to middle school students or whether there were intrinsic difficulties. The research was underpinned by the theoretical notion that intelligibility is a key step to the ontological conceptual changes needed for the radical shift to the Einsteinian paradigm and that conceptual change is impacted by students’ attitudes. The research was conducted in the context of a 20-lesson teaching programme based on models and analogies specifically designed for middle school students and to enable ontological conceptual change. We present an analysis of 120 14- to 15-year-old students’ conceptualisations of Einsteinian physics and their attitudes towards science as a result of this programme. Through testing before and after the programme, we found that the students possessed variable levels of prior knowledge of the core Einsteinian concepts, but near universal intelligibility of the core concepts after the programme. The strong saturation indicates that there is no intrinsic difficulty regarding intelligibility of core Einsteinian concepts at the middle school level of the participants. While the male students initially showed greater interest in physics compared with their female counterparts, the female students showed a significantly increased interest in physics after the programme. Repeatability in knowledge tests between classes given one year apart and long-term retention indicate that the programme had a lasting impact on students’ conceptual understanding.
KeywordsEinsteinian physics Models Analogies Einstein-First High school physics curriculum
This research was supported by a grant from the Australian Research Council (LP130100893), the Gravity Discovery Centre and the Graham Polly Farmer Foundation. The authors are grateful to the teachers Warwick Mathew, Dana Perks, Laura Ashbolt, relief teachers and students who participated in this study.
- Abbott, B. P. et al. (LIGO Scientific Collaboration & Virgo Collaboration). (2017). GW170817: observation of gravitational waves from a binary neutron star inspiral (PDF). Physical Review Letters. 119 (16).X.Google Scholar
- Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) (2017). The Australian Curriculum: Science. http://www.acara.edu.au/curriculum. Retrieved on 1 Nov 2018.
- Bar, V., Brosh, Y., & Sneider, C. (2016). Weight, mass, and gravity: threshold concepts in learning science. Science Educator, 25(1), 22–34.Google Scholar
- Chi, M. T. H. (2008). Three types of conceptual change; belief revision, mental model transformation and categorical shift. In S. Vosniadou (Ed.), International handbook of research on conceptual change (pp. 61–82). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Duit, R., & Treagust, D.F. (2003). Conceptual change: a powerful framework for improving science teaching and learning. International Journal of Science Education, 25(6), 671–688.Google Scholar
- Duit, R., & Treagust D.F. (2012). How can conceptual change contribute to theory and practice in science education? In B. F. Fraser, K. Tobin, & C. McRobbie (Eds.), Second international handbook of science education (pp. 107–118). Springer.Google Scholar
- Duit, R., Treagust, D.F, & Widodo, (2013). Teaching science for conceptual change: theory and practice. In S. Vosniadou (Ed.), International handbook of research on conceptual change (pp. 487–503). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Einstein, A. (1956). Republication of the original 1926 translation, investigation on the theory of the Brownian movement, Dover publications.Google Scholar
- Feynman, R. (1985). QED: The strange theory of light and matter (p. 15). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Haddad, W. D., & Pella, M. O. (1972). Relationship between mental maturity and level of understanding of concepts of relativity in grades 4-8. The Journal of Experimental Education, 41(1), 22–32.Google Scholar
- Kaur, T., Blair, D., Moschilla, J., Stannard, W., & Zadnik, M. (2017a). Teaching Einsteinian physics at schools: part 1, models and analogies for relativity. Physics Education, 52, 065012.Google Scholar
- Kaur, T., Blair, D., Moschilla, J., Stannard, W., & Zadnik, M. (2017b). Teaching Einsteinian physics at schools: part 2, models and analogies for quantum physics. Physics Education, 52, 065013.Google Scholar
- Kaur, T., Blair, D., Moschilla, J., Stannard, W., & Zadnik, M. (2017c). Teaching Einsteinian physics at schools: part 3, Review of research outcomes. Physics Education, 52, 065014.Google Scholar
- Koç, A., & Böyük, U. (2012). Basit malzemelerle yapılan deneylerin fene yönelik tutuma etkisi. Türk Fen Eğitimi Dergisi, 9, 102.Google Scholar
- Nieswandt, M. (2005). Attitudes toward science: a review of the field. In S. Alsop (Ed.), Beyond Cartesian dualism encountering teaching and learning of science Dordrecht (p. 41). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.Google Scholar
- Ogborn, J., Kress, G., Martins, I., & McGillicuddy, V. (1996). Explaining science in the classroom. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.Google Scholar
- Ozdemir, E., & Mustafa, E. (2010). Teaching uncertainty principle by hybrid approach—single slit diffraction experiment. Latin-American Journal of Physics Education, 4(3).Google Scholar
- Pitts, M., Venville, G., Blair, D., & Zadnik, M. (2014). Teaching aspects of Einstein’s general theory of relativity in year 6: an exploratory case study. Research in Science Education, 44, 363–388.Google Scholar
- Pospiech, G. (2008). Teaching the EPR–paradox at high school ?. Institut for Didaktik der Physik Johann Wolfgan Goethe University Frankfurt https://arxiv.org/pdf/physics/0002007.pdf.
- Shabajee, P., & Postlethwaite, K. (2000). What happened to modern physics? School Science Review, 81(297), 51–56.Google Scholar
- Stannard, R. (1999). The relativity translator. TES 25th June 1999, pp. 20. https://www.tes.com/news/relativity-translatorbriefingpeopleinterviewrussell-stannard
- Treagust, D.F., Harrison, A.G., & Venville, G.J. (1996). Using an analogical teaching approach to engender conceptual change. International Journal of Science Education, 18, 213.Google Scholar
- Wikiquote https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Common_sense. Accessed 1 Nov 2018.