Students’ conceptual knowledge of mechanical waves across different backgrounds and cultures


  • Apisit Tongchai
  • Manjula Sharma
  • Ian Johnston
  • Kwan Arayathanitkul


In recent years physics education researchers have focused on students’ conceptual understanding, and many research papers have reported on students’ alternative conceptions. Subsequently teaching strategies specifically designed to change students’ conceptions to those which are scientifically accepted have been successfully implemented. A claim made in most of these research papers is that the ordinary kinds of teaching are, in general, not effective in improving conceptual understanding (Hake 1998). This project aims to test conceptual understanding in a cross-section of students across several years from high school to second year university levels. A conceptual survey in mechanical waves was developed and administered to seven different groups of students; 54 Australian high school, 270 Thai high school, 123 first year university non-major physics, 287 first year university regular physics, 69 first year university advanced physics, 48 second year university regular physics and 51 second year university advanced physics students. The results show that the level of student conceptual understanding depends directly on their level of previous engagement with physics learning. The more previous engagement they have had, the more conceptual understanding they demonstrate, irrespective of the kinds of teaching they have been exposed to.