EXPLORING IN-SERVICE TEACHERS' BASELINE KNOWLEDGE OF MECHANICS

S. Ramaila, U. Ramnarain

University of Johannesburg (SOUTH AFRICA)
Mechanics is a vast conceptual area in introductory physics. Research on conceptual understanding demonstrates that this is an area characterized by a myriad of alternative conceptions. Adequate conceptual foundation in mechanics is central to meaningful understanding of various knowledge areas in physics as an intellectually stimulating discipline. Informed by the crucial need to foster meaningful enhancement of scientific literacy, there is an added imperative to develop teachers' content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge with a view to implore them to become reflective practitioners. In response to this key imperative, a baseline mechanics test was administered to 60 physical sciences in-service teachers enrolled for a Short Learning Program at a South African university. The items constituting the diagnostic assessment instrument related to specific concepts in mechanics and elicited teacher knowledge, understanding as well as application of a concept.The teachers constituted a purposive sample within the context of this inquiry and were drawn from township schools which are largely under-resourced. The teachers were identified by their subject facilitators for professional development with a view to establish sustainable communities of practice. Short Learning Programs are increasingly employed as strategic interventions by higher education institutions to enhance continuing teacher professional development within the South African context. However, the efficacy of such interventions remains a contentious issue. The key findings of this study revealed teachers' knowledge gaps and conceptual inadequacies associated with mechanics. The theoretical implications for teacher professional development are discussed.