The effectiveness of the Thai traditional teaching in the introductory physics course: A comparison with the US and Australian approaches

Narumon Emarat, Ian Johnston


In the last decade or so, much work has been done on developing special diagnostic tests to uncover misconceptions and to investigate students' understanding of physics concepts - see for example, Hestenes (1998). These tests usually consist of multiple choice questions in which the correct answer is hidden among very attractive wrong answers. These wrong answers are, in fact, constructed from common misconceptions identified by earlier researchers. Among the best known of the physics tests in the area of dynamics and kinematics are: the Force Concept Inventory (Hestenes, Wells and Swackhamer 1992); the Test for Understanding Graphs in Kinematics (Beichner 1994); and the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation (FMCE), designed by Sokoloff and Thornton (1998). Much effort within the Physics Education Research community has gone into evaluating these tests, both by themselves and in relation to one another (see for example, Huffman and Heller (1995)).

The current authors are interested in whether these same general findings can be extrapolated to other cultures, or whether they are only really applicable within the USA. We focus attention on one of the above standardized tests, the FMCE, because the originators of that test have also developed a particular interactive-engagement teaching technique which targets the same concepts as the test addresses. Reports of the testing of their own students can be briefly summarized thus. (1) The great majority of these students entered a university without a correct, or Newtonian, point of view on kinematics and dynamics, and (2) after instruction by the new teaching method, some 80-90% of their students were able to complete the FMCE successfully (a much higher fraction than in parallel, traditionally taught classes). See Sokoloff and Thornton (1997) for details. Some teachers in other institutions have used the same methods and report similar results (Cummings et al. 1999).

In Australia, Johnston and Millar (2000) did the same experiment and found comparable results, with one major difference. When the test was administered to introductory physics students before any instruction had taken place, the students' understanding of the concepts (as measured by the FMCE) was markedly higher than for US students. Since the universities involved in all these trials seemed to be much the same as as regards entrance requirements and so on, this finding is interesting, though its significance is not clear.

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