Levels of Students’ Understandings of Electric Field Due to a Continuous Charged Distribution: A Case Study of a Uniformly Charged Insulating Rod
Electric field is an important fundamental concept in
electrostatics. In high-school, generally Thai students have already
learned about definition of electric field, electric field due to a point
charge, and superposition of electric fields due to multiple-point
charges. Those are the prerequisite basic knowledge students holding
before entrancing universities. In the first-year university level,
students will be quickly revised those basic knowledge and will be
then introduced to a more complicated topic—electric field due to
continuous charged distributions. We initially found that our
freshman students, who were from the Faculty of Science and
enrolled in the introductory physic course (SCPY 158), often
seriously struggled with the basic physics concepts—superposition of
electric fields and inverse square law and mathematics being relevant
to this topic. These also then resulted on students’ understanding of
advanced topics within the course such as Gauss's law, electric
potential difference, and capacitance. Therefore, it is very important
to determine students' understanding of electric field due to
continuous charged distributions. The open-ended question about
sketching net electric field vectors from a uniformly charged
insulating rod was administered to 260 freshman science students as
pre- and post-tests. All of their responses were analyzed and
classified into five levels of understandings. To get deep
understanding of each level, 30 students were interviewed toward
their individual responses. The pre-test result found was that about
90% of students had incorrect understanding. Even after completing
the lectures, there were only 26.5% of them could provide correct
responses. Up to 50% had confusions and irrelevant ideas. The result
implies that teaching methods in Thai high schools may be
problematic. In addition for our benefit, these students’ alternative
conceptions identified could be used as a guideline for developing the
instructional method currently used in the course especially for
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