High School Physics Students’, High School Physics Teachers’, and University Physics Professors’ Conceptions about What it Means to Understand Physics: A Phenomenographic Study

  • Author / Creator
    Lukie, Michael Paul
  • There is limited literature about what it means to understand physics. Previous research has focused on university physics students’ understanding of physics concepts, but no research to date has examined variations across populations of what it means to understand physics. This study begins to fill this gap in the literature by describing high school physics students’, high school physics teachers’, and university physics professors’ conceptions of what it means to understand physics. Therefore, the conceptions being explored in this study are the conceptions of what it means to understand physics itself.

    Seventy-three participants (twenty-two students, twenty-three teachers, and twenty-eight professors) from one province in Canada were interviewed and their experiences and conceptions of what it means to understand physics were explored utilizing a phenomenographic approach. The result is a description of students’, teachers’, and professors’ conceptions for the phenomenon, what it means to understand physics, and the qualitatively different ways the phenomenon was experienced.

    Five categories of description emerged from the analysis: (1) feelings, (2) achievement, (3) communication, (4) making meaning, and (5) application. Twenty-two distinct subcategories of description emerged and represent the variation in what it means to understand physics between the students, teachers, and professors. The study found that as the level of the participant’s physics expertise increased from novice to expert, the number of conceptions of what it means to understand physics also increased.

    Four of the five categories of description: ‘feelings’, ‘achievement’, ‘communication’, and ‘making meaning’ were not found in the current literature of individuals’ conceptions of understanding physics and some of the variations in the subcategories may reflect the varying extent of the participants’ physics expertise and experiences. The participants shared that they experienced an emotional response to what it means to understand physics and a key finding is that the physics professors conceptualized what it means to understand physics as a ‘gut feeling’ or a ‘feeling of intuition’. The outcome space for this study is non-hierarchical, holistic, and represented by a circle, which means that each category of description is arranged on the same level as each other.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.