The Alternative Conceptions Held by High School Students in Mechanics

By Stephan P. Mchunu and Sitwala N. Imenda.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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The main purpose of this study was to identify alternative conceptions held by high school learners concerning mechanics, as one of the major topics in South Africa’s NCS. The research sample comprised 140 grade 12 students from four high schools. A researcher-designed test was used to collect the required data. Although quantitative data were collected, the main thrust of data analysis for this paper was on the qualitative data generated. The results showed that the students mainly held eight alternative conceptions related to mechanics. These were that (a) the velocity and acceleration of a projectile increase as the projectile goes up; (b) the weight, or mass, of an object has an effect on the magnitude of the force it exerts; (c) force is needed to keep an object moving at all times, (d) only active agents exert force; (e) objects that are not moving do not exert force; (f) action-reaction forces occur at different times.; (g) at the highest point, the acceleration of a projectile is zero; and (h) motion implies active force. These findings are discussed, and recommendations made.

Keywords: Alternative Conceptions, High School Students, Physics, Mechanics, South Africa

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp.25-42. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 556.765KB).

Dr. Stephan P. Mchunu

Deputy Principal, Curriculum and Physical Science Teacher at Old Mill High School.h, As an employee: Department of Education in KwaZulu-natal Province in South Africa., , As PhD student: Department of mathematics, Science and Technology Education, Faculty of Education, University of Zululand, South Africa., University of Zululand, Empangeni, RSA, South Africa

Dr. Mchunu has just completed his doctoral degree in science education from the University of Zululand, investigating grade 12 learners’ alternative conceptions and learning difficulties in mechanics in a number of schools in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Dr. Mchunu has many years of experience teaching physical science at the high school level. He worked with Prof. Sitwala Imenda as his promoter on this project.

Prof. Sitwala N. Imenda

Professor of Science Education, Mathematics, Science and Technology, Education Department, University of Zululand, Richards Bay, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

Prof. Imenda is a professor of science education, and has worked at a number of universities in the Southern African region. He graduated from the University of Zambia, SUNY – Albany and the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.