Investigation of Mental Models of Turkish Pre-Service Physics Students for the Concept of “Spin”

Assoc. Prof. Dr., Hacettepe University, Faculty of Education, Ankara-Turkey.


Problem Statement: Difficulties in the learning process usually emerge from the problem of mental representations constructed by students in their interactions with the world. This previous knowledge and these ideas are in contradiction with scientific facts, and are known as misconceptions or alternative ideas. Thus, an analysis of the mental models can provide very valuable information in understanding students’ ideas and learning processes.

Purpose of Study: The present study aims to determine pre-service physics teachers’ understanding of and difficulties with spin concept via mental models, which can be drawn from students’ reasoning both at introductory and advanced levels.

Methods: In determining the participants, a purposeful sampling method was used so that the questions the study focuses on would be better illuminated. The qualitative data used in the study was gathered via interviews with the students. All of the interviews were conducted one on one by the researcher in the class environment.

Findings and Results: The data gathered through interviews were analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively, and the mental models formed by students about the concept of spin were determined. The categories codified as “mental models” reflect the mental models of students concerning the concept of spin and were categorized as “quantum model,” “classical model,” and “without any model.”

Conclusions and Recommendations: As a result of this examination, it was seen that the students’ models related to the concept of atom and the models related to the concept of spin show similarities. One of the main reasons for the occurrence of such similar thought processes was that students from both groups attribute classical meanings to these concepts (spin and atom). It was not by chance that students who know of the classical atom model (Bohr’s atom model) also consider the concept of spin as the rotation of an object around its own axis. This case signifies to what extent their ideas about the structure of an atom is influenced by the atom models they learned in modern physics classes during their high school years. Therefore, it is necessary that the quantum model of atom is emphasized through modern atom theories and through the concept of probability, especially at the high school level, because the concept of probability is an important gateway that facilitates the transition from Bohr’s atom model to the quantum atom model.

Keywords: Mental models, modern physics, spin concept, Turkish pre-service physics students.