Learning and Conceptual Change in Thermal Physics Concepts: An Examination by Gender

Umairia Malik, Elizabeth J Angstmann, Kate Wilson


Students enter physics classes often having an understanding of basic concepts which is incomplete or incorrect. In this study, we investigate the performance difference between males and females on one particular question of the Thermodynamics Concept Survey (TCS). The question evaluates student understanding of the heat (energy) that is transferred during change of state and change of temperature. We find that males outperform females, in the pre-and post-instruction tests. However, using transition matrices with the hierarchy of answer choices, reveals that females are more likely than males to improve their understanding from an incorrect answer to a better incorrect answer. This improvement is not captured in the facilities, or normalised learning gains. Hence while the gap in conceptual understanding is reduced after the instruction, this is not rewarded in the usual binary multiple-choice scoring system.

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