Factors inhibiting student understanding : a study of anxiety and preconceptions in high school physics
Students undertake instruction in physics with well-formed preconceptions about the physical world, based on experience and prior learning. These naive conceptions are consistent across student populations, strongly resembling the pre-Newtonian concepts of Aristotle, and persist after instruction. Studies show these preconceptions to be "antagonistic" to the learning of new concepts, causing students to become anxious when their prior learning is challenged. Two treatment groups used a divided page exercise, which included students' cognitive and affective responses, in two demonstrations of physical phenomena new to the student, performed before and after instruction in electricity and magnetism. The treatment group given time limits and "one right answer" constraints seemed to maintain high anxiety levels, even after instruction in the subject. Some students persisted in their prior conceptions, some let new concepts exist side by side with prior knowledge and others discarded unworkable concepts for new ones.