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Ausubel’s principle of prior knowledge in first year mechanics

The Force Concept Inventory a 30-question multiple choice test has been used to test the baseline knowledge in mechanics prior to a course of instruction at Hull over the three years corresponding to entry in 2008 2009 and 2010. Students whose pre-university education occurred outside the UK or who were repeating the year have been excluded from the analysis in order to focus attention on first-time UK students. These constitute the great majority of the entrants and the results essentially characterise the entry-level knowledge of a typical cohort. Two interesting findings have emerged. First there is a wide range of abilities within each cohort as judged by the test scores and secondly analysis of the scores question by question reveals a remarkable consistency between the different cohorts. This consistency extends even to the distribution of choices within individual questions. Five such questions are analysed in detailed to reveal which aspects of mechanics a typical class finds difficult. Ausubel‟s principle of first finding out what students know in order to teach accordingly can therefore be applied not to the individual students but to the class as a whole and suggestions as to how instruction might be tailored to address the weaknesses revealed by the Force Concept Inventory are discussed.

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