American Journal of Educational Research
ISSN (Print): 2327-6126 ISSN (Online): 2327-6150 Website: Editor-in-chief: Ratko Pavlović
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American Journal of Educational Research. 2016, 4(17), 1238-1244
DOI: 10.12691/education-4-17-8
Open AccessArticle

Physico-mathematical Conceptual Difficulties among First Year Students Learning Introductory University Physics

Kasimba Phebby Mwangala1 and Overson Shumba2,

1Science Department, Highridge Secondary School, Kabwe, Zambia

2School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Copperbelt University, Zambia

Pub. Date: November 15, 2016

Cite this paper:
Kasimba Phebby Mwangala and Overson Shumba. Physico-mathematical Conceptual Difficulties among First Year Students Learning Introductory University Physics. American Journal of Educational Research. 2016; 4(17):1238-1244. doi: 10.12691/education-4-17-8


This descriptive survey at Kwame Nkrumah University in Kabwe, Zambia, explored difficulties that first year students (n= 116) experienced and perceived with physico-mathematical concepts in an introductory physics course. The data on difficulties was collected using a physics achievement test and a focus group discussion session while a questionnaire was employed to assess perceptions of difficulties associated with the physico-mathematical topics and concepts in the test. The students’ performance in the test was unsatisfactory where the scores ranged from 16% to 46.9% and averaged 33.0% in the five-question test. They had difficulties in creating and interpreting formulae and data and unsatisfactorily identified, combined and applied physico-mathematical concepts in the test items. The questionnaire survey, more than 60% of the students were likely to rate lecture topics on topics such as speed, work, and energy as not difficult. This number significantly decreased to around 35% when asked to rate the use, application or derivation of specific physico-mathematical concepts in the test. For example, 69.8% rated topic or concept ‘acceleration’ not difficult and 35.4% expressed having to formulate the equation a= (vf-vi)/t using information from a graph in the test as ‘difficult’. The findings of this study suggest that students need close support to comprehend physico-mathematical relations and their interpretation deeply.

physico-mathematical concepts conceptual difficulties perceptions performance achievement

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