First year students' understanding of measurements in physics laboratory work

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Recent collaborative work by the physics education research group at the University of Cape Town (South Africa) and the science education research group at the University of York (United Kingdom) has produced a suite of research instruments which may be used to probe the procedural understanding of first-year physics students. The work has led to the development of a model for classifying students' reasoning about measurement in terms of theoretical constructs which have been termed the point and set paradigms. The model accounts for the ways in which students make decisions in the areas of data collection, data processing and data comparison during experimental work. A set of questionnaires was modified and used in this study to investigate mainstream physics students' understanding of measurement both before and after completing a full year physics laboratory curriculum. It was found that although the mainstream students both entered and exited their course with high levels of proficiency in applying the more formalistic rules of data analysis, very few shifted in their fundamental understanding of the concepts that underlie experimentation. The results further suggest that the laboratory course may have indeed impeded these students from developing a deep understanding of the nature of measurement and uncertainty.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 135-140).