Helping future primary teachers to understand what the forces are

2018 edition

Angela Garcia - LladĂł

Among the things primary school teachers need to know, we find the need to know how children learn and which are the contents and skills related to the disciplines that they would teach. During the Primary Education Degree students learn both things. Science is one of the disciplines that must be worked very carefully during the degree. That’s because pre-service teachers’ science knowledge is not solid, and it is easily forgotten.

Research in science education focusses on how science should be introduced to children. During the degree, students have a semi-annual subject called: “Didactics of the Matter, the Energy and the Interaction (DMEI)” where they learn science education skills along with basic content physics/chemistry knowledge.

One of the most difficult topics in the course is forces and their relationship with everyday situations. Why forces are so difficult to be scientifically understood? We deal with forces since birth and because of that, we are able to develop a deep intuition of what forces are and how they work. This intuitive model is strongly entrenched and very difficult to change. At the same time, the scientific model of force is very counter-intuitive and quite different from our own built model.

The general aim of this study is to find out how we can improve the scientific understanding of forces of DMEI students’ using external representations and focussing on the concept of interaction between objects. We want to offer a guide to develop new teaching materials based on this, and practices to improve the learning of the scientific model of force and of how to teach it in pre-service primary science teachers training.

The design consists of split plot factorial design, with a pre-post questionnaire, and two groups, the experimental group with a class intervention and the control group. Both groups also included deep interviews to accurately describe how the students understand these topics and if they make some development during the interview. At the end of the 2016-17, a pre-post comparison for the control group questionnaires’ answers was performed. During the 2017-18 school year, materials for the intervention are being developed. At the end of the current year, the same pre-post comparison will be done for the experimental group.

The preliminary findings from the control group pre-post comparison have shown that students arrive at the university level with deeply rooted misconceptions and the points where they have most serious problems with forces comprehension. This information is being used to design the intervention that should improve this comprehension.

This study is part of the research project ‘Impact of the external representations on the conceptual change’ (EDU2013-47593-C2-2-P, IP: Mercè Garcia-Milà (UB)) carried on by the Group ALFAGRAF and has the support of the GRIEC-UB (Research and Innovation Group on Science Education (IP: Marina Castells)).