Identifying high school physics students’ factors of epistemological cognition in electricity through online inquiry simulations



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Physics is considered a difficult topic for high school students to learn. Students’ preconceptions and misconceptions, along with the context-dependency of mathematical problem solving and complexity of physical systems, may lead students to memorize solutions rather than understanding physics expressions. Previous research has demonstrated that researchers must model the interaction of students' epistemological beliefs, epistemological framing, and epistemic games with content knowledge and achievement in physics to better understand why students may fail to apply their knowledge and skills. The purpose of this study was to develop and validate the Epistemological Cognition Rubric (ECR) to measure regular-level high school physics students’ epistemological cognition within the context of electricity inquiry activities and to determine whether students with a higher level of epistemological cognition score higher on the end of unit exam. Epistemological cognition is an umbrella term describing students’ epistemological beliefs, epistemological framing, and epistemic games and their intertwined relationship. Specifically, this study sought to answer the following research questions: 1. What reliability and validity evidence supports that the ECR measures students’ epistemological cognition within the developed inquiry electricity activities? 2. What is the relationship between students' epistemological cognition factors, including their demonstrated epistemological beliefs, epistemological framing, and epistemic games? 3. What is the relationship between students’ demonstrated level of epistemological cognition, their retention of electricity concepts, and their performance on NGSS-based learning objectives? 4. Do all students, or certain populations of students, using the developed inquiry electricity activities outperform students learning the same content through mixed or traditional only pedagogy?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, 209 regular-level high school physics students participated in the study through either an at-home or hybrid model of learning. The students were separated by classes into either an experimental or control group; all students completed a pretest, a demographic survey, five electricity activities, and a posttest. The experimental group performed five inquiry-based activities, while the control group completed five traditional activities based on the simulations. A mixed group also completed half of the inquiry activities and half of the traditional activities for comparison. The students’ inquiry activities were graded on the ECR. Before the study, the same procedures were completed with sixty-five physical science students as a pilot test.

A two-way, fixed-raters agreement interclass correlation (ICC) and a Cronbach’s  demonstrated the reliability of the ECR. A Principal Component Analysis, Confirmatory Factor Analysis, and Spearman’s Correlation Coefficient demonstrate content validity, where Factor 1 most likely represented students’ epistemological beliefs and Factor 2 represented students’ mathematical framing and games. Students’ epistemological framing was not measured using the ECR but may represent the relationship between epistemological beliefs and epistemic games. Further, results indicated that students’ average ECR scores were not significant predictors of test scores. Interestingly, the students in the Mixed group statistically significantly outperformed the students in both the Inquiry and Traditional groups. Further research is needed to understand the Mixed group’s success.



Physics, Epistemological Cognition, Electricity, Epistemic Games, Epistemological Beliefs, Epistemological Framing