An investigation of the challenges facing grade 10 science learners in sense-making of mechanics problems : a case study

Malunguza, J. (2009) An investigation of the challenges facing grade 10 science learners in sense-making of mechanics problems : a case study. Masters thesis, Rhodes University.




The research study was conducted at Ixopo High School, an English medium, former model-C, co-educational school in Kwazulu-Natal. The research is located within an interpretive paradigm and is informed by the constructivism theoretical framework. The learners and educators who participated in this research study did so voluntarily. The principal objective of this case study was to investigate the challenges faced by 30 Grade 10 Science learners in understanding the problems posed in the mechanics section of the Physics syllabus. This investigation was carried out using two learning strategies: problem solving and practical work. Various authors have noted some sections in the Physics syllabus are often misunderstood by the learners, for different reasons. From the literature and from the author’s personal experience it was found that mechanics is a topic that the learners of different races and age groups find difficult to conceptualise. In general, learners have misconceptions and make errors in Physical Sciences. Often educators view children’s errors and misconceptions in terms of low intelligence, low mathematical aptitude, perceptual difficulties or learning disabilities instead of attempting to discover the real causes of the errors. Educators need to find out why the learners make these mistakes, in order to help them. In most cases Mathematics forms a basic common element in scientific study. Hence, science learners need to be able to deal with numbers, operations, symbols and mathematical formulae. The term “science” embraces a very wide area of subject matter. Different learners will have widely differing interests within the many subdivisions of this field. This presents a problem when preparing learners for the scientific language they will need to study different branches of science. This implies that failure to understand the meaning of words or symbols inevitably impairs communication. The data analysed was collected using a variety of data collection tools. The main data generation tools were science tasks, structured interviews and group interviews and questionnaires. The analysis revealed that learners were lacking in mathematical skills and science register (terminology). Both first and second language English speakers encountered problems in science register but the study found that the problem was more pronounced in the latter. The findings of this study also highlighted that learners understand how to think mathematically when they are resourceful, flexible, and efficient in their dealing with new mathematical problems in mechanics. However, mathematical problem solving performance is built on the foundation of basic mathematical knowledge. The study suggested that even when the challenges of a general understanding of English as the medium of instruction and scientific language (register) are overcome, learners are still challenged by mathematical problem solving strategies; reading and writing of science; making meanings of symbols and signs; graphs and scientific mathematical equations in sense making of mechanics problems.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Science study and teaching; Mathematics study and teaching; Physical sciences study and teaching; South Africa
Subjects:L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1603 Secondary Education. High schools
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Education > Education
Supervisors:Ngcoza, K. (Dr)
ID Code:1609
Deposited By: Nicolene Mvinjelwa
Deposited On:28 Apr 2010 09:56
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:21
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