Student naï;ve conceptions in their explanations in a grade 12 physics examination

Umesh Ramnarain, Celeste van Niekerk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This paper reports on an analysis of student conceptions in responses to explanation-type questions in a grade 12 (17–18 years) South African national physics examination. We were guided in our analysis of 921 examination scripts by a framework developed by Dagher and Cossman on types of explanations in science which enabled us to understand the characteristics of the explanation, and then diagnose a naï;ve conception that was inherent to the explanation. We sought clarity on the naï;ve conceptions by interviewing 10 students on their responses to these questions. The study revealed that students have a naï;ve, superficial and fragmentary understanding of scientific phenomena. These conceptions were not theoretically grounded as students appeared to string together pieces of knowledge in response to contextual feature of the problem situation. This supports the interpretation of the student conceptions from a p-prim perspective as advanced by diSessa and his colleagues, and challenges the notion of students having misconceptions. We believe the method of analyzing the explanations does offer researchers and teachers a reliable and efficient way by which written student explanations can be probed for conceptions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-125
Number of pages14
JournalAfrican Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Misconceptions
  • Naïve conceptions
  • P-prims
  • Scientific phenomena
  • Student explanations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Mathematics
  • Education
  • General Engineering
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Computer Science Applications


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