Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

June 12, 2014

The rich get richer: Gain (purple points) and loss (yellow points) as a function of pre-test score. The more prior knowledge students have, the more concepts they gain during their course of study and the fewer they lose. [Figure reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: N. Lasry, J. Guillemette, E. Mazur, "Two steps forward, one step back," Nature Physics 10, 402–403(2014) | doi:10.1038/nphys2988 ©2014.]

Among physics students there exists a wide variety of misconceptions, generally thought to be robust and resistant to change. In their Commentary in Nature Physics, Professor Eric Mazur and colleagues from SEAS and John Abbott College, Montreal, analyze students' conceptual gains and losses at the end of introductory physics courses and offers several suggestions for the surprising magnitude of the losses.