Gretchen Obergefell


Presentation: 3:00-4:15 p.m., Kennedy Union Ballroom



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Since the 1970s, quality instruction and assessments within the field of physics have become a highly researched area in physics education research (PER). These assessments help identify common misconceptions that continue to plague the field of physics for years. Some of the most experienced students and teachers in physics have misconceptions and pass them along to classmates and students. The research goal is to design an assessment relating to the circuits unit of a conceptual physics course that can diagnose a student's prior knowledge and track progress after introducing the unit. The assessment consists of two parts: a pre-test and a post-test. Students take the pre-test during the class before the circuits unit. The test assesses students’ prior knowledge of electrical circuits. The same assessment is administered during the next class meeting after the circuits unit concludes as a post-test to measure how instruction affected student understanding. The research was conducted in a conceptual physics lab class with a population of 8 students. The population consisted of mainly non-science majors who have taken the corresponding lecture course, or are concurrently enrolled in the lecture course with the lab. Results showed that students improved their ability to define key characteristics of simple, series, and parallel circuits. Data also illustrated that students struggled to use Kirchhoff’s Loop and Junction Rules. Information gathered from this research demonstrates that quality formative assessments provide helpful feedback to guide instructors on how to teach students best. Low stakes formative assessments can be used as formative instructional practices to highlight prior knowledge and misconceptions of students. Teachers can then respond to these misconceptions and attempt to correct them during instruction.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Capstone Project

Primary Advisor

Brendon Mikula, Todd Smith

Primary Advisor's Department



Stander Symposium, College of Arts and Sciences

Institutional Learning Goals


Creating Effective Formative Physics Assessments to Guide Instructional Practices