Making sense of making sense: A microgenetic multiple case study of five students’ developing conceptual compounds related to physics

Change log
Brock, Richard Andrew  ORCID logo

The research reported in this thesis arose from a comment made by a student who had achieved highly in examinations yet felt that science: ‘doesn’t make sense’. Different conceptualisations of learning are analysed leading to the development of the concept of making sense as the formation or modification of a conceptual compound in which concepts are related in a coherent causal system that may be transferred to novel situations. This definition is situated within a constructivist epistemology. The research question asks how students make sense of physics concepts in dynamics and electricity. Five 17-18 year-old students, conceptualised as a multiple case study, were selected from an English secondary school using purposeful sampling. The students were interviewed once a week for 22 weeks in sessions using a range of probes such as interviews about instances, concept maps and concept inventory questions. It is assumed that data collection occurred at a frequency that was high relative to the rate of conceptual change, hence, the work is conceptulaised as microgenetic. The analysis focuses on the development of the students’: a) ontologies of concepts from concrete instances towards abstractions; b) conceptual structures from temporary organisations to more stable structures; c) understanding of causality from focused on macroscopic objects to abstract concepts; d) judgments of coherence; f) conceptual change modeled as an alteration in the ‘oftenness’ of application of a concept in a given context; and e) ability to apply concepts to novel contexts. The implications of these findings for teaching and future research are discussed.

Taber, Keith Stephen
Conceptual change, Science education, Microgenetic, Case study, Constructivism, Causality, Ontology
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge