David Harrison, Dept. of Physics, Univ. of Toronto, firstname.lastname@example.org , April 2004
25 years ago a group of adult learners interested in physics formed a discussion group, which is still meeting monthly. Participants have a wide variety of backgrounds, from high school science teachers to art dealers. Most either do not have any traditional science background or had taken a traditional physics or other science course many years ago. However, many were enrolled in a non-credit evening course in modern physics without mathematics offered nearly 3 decades ago.
The Force Concept Inventory (FCI) is one of a growing number of diagnostic instruments that are creating a revolution in Physics curricula around the world. The instruments identify common misconceptions held by high school and beginning university physics students. Curricula are being designed with the explicit goal of clearing up these misconceptions.  
Recently I gave the FCI to this group of adult amateurs.16 people participated. Although a very small sample, the results may nonetheless have some interest.
The mean was 64%, with a range from 31% to 87%. The standard error of the mean is 4%. 
The mean is significantly higher (~ 20% - 30%) than pre-tests of beginning Physics students at the high school, college or university level. For teenagers, there is some indication that performance on the FCI increases by 3 – 4 % per year and that the increase is due more to life experience than formal instruction. Our results are consistent with this increase continuing beyond adolescence.
The participants pointed out a problem with Question 26 of the test. The question is shown in Table 1.
Question 25 of the test begins with:
Then Question 26 is:
The problem with Question 26 is that if the woman has sufficient strength, speed and stamina, eventually the speed of the box is large enough that the force on the box due to air resistance will match the force she is applying to it. In this case Answer 4 is correct. I believe this question requires re-wording. Great efforts have been made throughout the test to avoid phrases such as "ignore air resistance" so perhaps the setting of this question can be changed to involve a woman astronaut on the airless moon. 
Finally, one of the participants, whose first language is not English, had some difficulty in understanding the language used in the test. Re-reading the test and thinking about my many first year university students who also have English as a second (or even third) language, I think that some of our multi-cultural Canadian students may have more difficulty with the language of the FCI than the typical American student.
This document is Copyright © 2004 David M. Harrison.
This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions
set forth in the Open Content License, v1.0 or later. The latest version is
presently available at http://opencontent.org/opl.shtml).