Students' analogical reasoning in novel situations: theory-like misconceptions or p-prims?

Nikolaos Fotou, Ian Abrahams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Over the past 50 years there has been much research in the area of students’ misconceptions. Whilst this research has been useful in helping to inform the design of instructional approaches and curriculum development it has not provided much insight into how students reason when presented with a novel situation and, in particular, the knowledge they draw upon in an attempt to make predictions about that novel situation. This article reports on a study of Greek students, aged from 10 to 17 years old, who were asked to make predictions in novel situations and to then provide, without being told whether their predictions were correct or incorrect, explanations about their predictions. Indeed, their explanations in such novel situations have the potential to reveal how their ideas, as articulated as predictions, are formed as well as the sources they draw upon to make those predictions. We also consider in this article the extent to which student ideas can be seen either as theory-like misconceptions or, alternatively, as situated acts of construction involving the activation of fragmented pieces of knowledge referred to as phenomenological primitives (p-prims). Our findings suggest that in most cases students’ reasoning in novel situations can be better understood in terms of their use of p-prims and that teaching might be made more effective if teachers were more aware of the p-prims that students were likely to be using when presented with new situations in physics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
JournalPhysics Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2016

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