npsm 새물리 New Physics : Sae Mulli

pISSN 0374-4914 eISSN 2289-0041


Research Paper

New Physics: Sae Mulli 2013; 63: 1364-1373

Published online December 31, 2013

Copyright © New Physics: Sae Mulli.

Characteristics of Pre-service Physics Teachers' Conceptual Understanding of the Gradient in an Upper-level Electromagnetism Course

Kwanghee JO*

Department of Physics Education, Chosun University, Gwangju 501-759


Received: November 4, 2013; Revised: November 15, 2013; Accepted: December 11, 2013

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This study explored students' conceptual understanding of and learning difficulties with the gradient in an upper-level electromagnetism course. The participants were 25 pre-service teachers in the Physics Education Department of a university in Korea. For the data collection, reflective journal writing, paper and pencil tests, and interviews were done after lectures. The results showed some lack of coherence between physical meanings of and mathematical expressions for the gradient, and some lack of congruence between symbolic and geometric representations. The participants had a tendency to draw the gradient as a tangential line. Additionally, some of them confused the gradient with the divergence or the curl on a test that involved drawing the direction of the gradient, writing mathematical expressions for the gradient, and calculating the gradient. From the analysis of the reflective journals, we found that the sudents generally had more than a medium level of a difficulty in learning about the gradient.

Keywords: Gradient, Vector derivatives, Electromagnetism, Upper-level physics, Pre-service physics teacher, Representation