Two Cognitive Dimensions of Students’ Mental Models in Science: Fidelity of Gestalt and Functional Fidelity
A poorly elaborated learner’s understanding of models has been reported to be one of the major sources for learning difficulties in the quantum domain. To be able to provide physics education in schools with evidence as to how this problem can be tackled, a deeper theoretical understanding of the structure of learners’ mental models in quantum physics seems essential. In this respect, previous research has proposed two dimensions in learners’ mental models in the atomic hull context, labelled Fidelity of Gestalt and Functional Fidelity. In this article, we investigate whether this proposed two-factorial structure can be transferred to quantum concepts beyond the atomic hull context. To approach this, we surveyed the structure of students’ mental models in the context of photons’ properties and behavior. We conducted a questionnaire study: 170 secondary school students completed a survey instrument adapted from the literature. Using exploratory factor analysis, the two factors Fidelity of Gestalt and Functional Fidelity to describe the students’ mental models could be replicated for the photon context. We provide a selection of results from physics education literature to reveal that our two-factor framework to describe the students’ mental models seems to be a promising endeavor in the landscape of science education research in general.