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The Concept of" Physics Competence"

Period: 30.06.1997 - 01.07.2000
Project management: Dr. Jörn Gerdes
Financing: DFG
Members: Dr. Jörn Gerdes, Prof. Dr. Horst Schecker

The thesis formulates and validates a construct called "physics competence". This topic was inspired by the question, whether it is possible to describe the knowledge and abilities of a pupil in physics in simple, unique form, or if one has to take a lot of different aspects into account. In the theoretical part, a closer look is taken at the psychological presumptions and the approaches of the research in science education towards competence. It is shown, that the usage of the notion "competence" and even "physics competence" can be very different depending on what the authors are looking at. In the context of the present study, "physics competence" is defined as the sum of disposition a learner has, when he or she works on a physics problem at school level. These dispositions are specified as abilities on four different levels of understanding and the degrees of interrelations between these levels. The four levels of understanding are categorized as the qualitative, half-quantitative, quantitative and system dynamic level of understanding. It is pre-assumed that these levels of understanding can be aggregated in a superior construction "physics competence". In order to test this, the following three hypotheses were formulated: Hypothesis 1: The growing of competence caused by physics instruction can be determined through the growth of the abilities on the four levels of understanding and through the degrees of interrelations between these levels. Hypothesis 2: Pupils whose abilities are at the top group in a specific level of understanding also show high abilities in the other levels. Hypothesis 3: Among the levels of understanding, there is none which could be considered as a general indicator of physics competence. To test these hypotheses, empirical data is used from the study "Learning Physics with System Dynamics Modelling", which was granted by the German Research Association. The physics domain of this study is the field of "force and motion". The investigation of these hypotheses shows that there is a lot of evidence to confirm them and that the construct "physics competence" can be used to draw a more coherent picture of the pupils' understanding of physics in the field of "force and motion". Some conclusions can be drawn from these results. In the ongoing discussion about the question whether the theories of pupils about physics are related or not, it can be shown that the degree of interrelation between these theories or pieces of knowledge can be interpreted as one degree of physics competence among others. Furthermore, several aspects of competence have to be taken into account. These aspects can be described as qualitative, half-quantitative, quantitative and system dynamic. This has to be considered while testing physics competence at school level. One possible way of testing these aspects is shown in the thesis using a test of developing a model on different stages (AME). When testing new treatments, the way of gathering and interpreting data about physics competence shown in this thesis can be helpful not only to detect where the benefits, but also where the shortcomings of this new treatment are. The results and conclusions of the present thesis try to give some helpful tools into the hands of empirically working scientists in the field of science education and into the hand of physics teachers.

Last change: 20.9.2017