Teach the Earth > Student Learning: Observing and Assessing > Geoscience Classroom Assessments > Force Concept Inventory

Force Concept Inventory

Federica Raia
City College of New York
The Force Concept Inventory (FCI) is a research-based multiple-choice test designed to assess student understanding of the most basic concepts in Newtonian physics.

What learning is this evaluation activity designed to assess?

Students come to formal education with a large range of knowledge, skills, experiences and beliefs that influence how they perceive the natural world and how they categorize and interpret it. Therefore, formal education is built from existing knowledge and preconception students bring with them.
Physics education research has recognized that 1) this prior knowledge and understanding affects students abilities to reason, to acquire knew knowledge in a well-organized structure, and 2) its influence on physics instruction cannot be determined without careful research. As a result, a number of diagnostic tests, based on research on students understandings, have been developed. The purpose of these tests such as the Force Concept Inventory (FCI), attached here, is to help instructors discover and evaluate their students' commonsense beliefs and understandings. Specifically, the Force Concept Inventory (Hestenes,Wells,and Swackhammer,1992)is designed to help instructors discover and evaluate their students' commonsense beliefs in Newtonian physics.

What is the nature of the teaching/learning situation for which your evaluation has been designed?

It can be used for both research and instructional purposes. The FCI questions and possible answers are worded in a simple colloquial language and are developed using the finding of previous physics education research. When choosing an answer, students must choose between Newtonian concepts and commonsense alternatives.
At CCNY we utilize FCI in introductory Physics courses and Physical Science courses for Science School Teachers both as a testing tool and to stimulate in class discussion among students to induce conceptual change.
The goal of the FCI is to probe and asses the commonsense beliefs students have when studying introductory mechanics. With help of the FCI, instructors can then probe the conceptual knowledge of their students before and after instruction and use it as a diagnostic tool for evaluating and modifying instruction.

What advice would you give others using this evaluation?

Major research projects on students' conceptual understanding are necessary to develop this kind of diagnostic tests. What I find very powerful is that what can follow from research- or evidence-based approaches to teaching and assessing students: a shift of research focus from "what are we teaching and how can we deliver it?" to "in what context/preconceptual framework do we pick up our students?"

Are there particular things about this evaluation that you would like to discuss with the workshop participants? Particular aspects on which you would like feedback?

It would be interesting for this Geoscience Assessment Workshop group to devise a common research project on students' understanding of Earth Science concepts to develop similar diagnostic tools in our discipline

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