BOX 9-2
Diagnosing Preconceptions in Physics

A computer-based DIAGNOSER program was designed to help teachers elicit and work with student preconceptions in physics.22 The program assesses students’ beliefs about various physical phenomena and provides recommended activities that help students reinterpret phenomena from a physicist’s perspective. The teacher uses the feedback from DIAGNOSER to guide instruction.

Data were collected for students of three teachers at Mercer Island School who used the program and were compared with data for students in a comparable school where the program was not used in physics instruction. Data were collected on Miller Analogies Test math scores for students from both schools, so that individual students were compared with others who had the same level of mathematics achievement. In the figure below, the math scores for both groups on the same mechanics final exam are plotted. The results suggest that students’ understanding of important concepts in physics was substantially better in the Mercer Island school, and this result was true for students at all mathematics achievement levels.

Scores of students from Mercer Island and a comparable school on mechanics final.

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