Understanding Student Cognition Through an Analysis of Their Preconceptions in Physics


  • George Zhou
  • Norma Nocente
  • Wytze Brouwer




Over the last three decades, many studies have been conducted to identify students’ preconceptions on various science topics. It is time now for a synthetic study of preconceptions to enhance our understanding of students’ everyday cognition and to benefit our effort in developing effective instructional inventions for conceptual change. Through a classroom-based study, we collected quantitative and qualitative data about students’ preconceptions in physics. Data analysis produced an in-depth understanding of the features of students’ preconceptions and cognition. For example, we found that students thought analogically as scientists did, but they used analogies differently. We also found that students’ preconceptions were highly correlated and that some preconceptions were more fundamental than others. Having the core preconception probably means having many others. The pedagogical and research implications of these findings are highlighted.