Teaching Physics differently

To compensate for the lack of interest for courses in STEMS, observed in students, CESI Ecole d’Ingénieurs decided in 2010 to experiment on a large scale a whole course using the PBL (Problem-Based Learning) approach.


In 2011, the experimentation focused on the 1st-year course in Mechanics, and intended to broaden to other domains such as Thermodynamics, Electricity and Magnetism 1st-year courses in 2012.

In order to measure the efficiency of the approach, it was decided that a research should be done, focusing on the experimentation in Mechanics for 2 years.

This research aimed at comparing knowledge acquisition and cognitive effects of the PBL approach with a traditional course, in 3 centres. The student were divided into two groups in each centre, one following the PBL approach, the other a traditional course. The learning objectives were the same in both situations: the learning objectives of the traditional course were used to design PBL sessions, comprising in all 6 problems (2 during the first semester, and 4 during the second semester.

The Force Concept Inventory (FCI) translated into French was used to measure knowledge acquisition, together with a common final exam, assessed by a Rubrics grid covering all the learning objectives. The FCI test was taken at the beginning and at the end of the course.

Main results

The analysis of the results of the final exam assessed by the Rubrics grid measuring each learning objective shows that there was no significant difference in knowledge acquisition between the two approaches. Besides that, It has also been observed that the behavioural criteria were not assessed similarly in all centres.

The analysis of the FCI test results shows that PBL does not improve students’ conceptions, contrary to the initial hypothesis. However, it also shows that none of the two approaches had an effect on students’ conceptions.

A detailed survey of the most frequent misconceptions of our students shows that these are also the most frequent misconceptions in secondary education, which are persisting for some students in spite of a further training session in mechanics. Which raises the question of which type of pedagogy can act upon these misconceptions.


BLANDIN, B. (2010) Learning Physics: a Competency-based Curriculum using Modelling Techniques and PBL Approach, Oral presentation at the GIREP – ICPE – MPTL International Conference, Reims, 22-27 August 2010.

VICHERAT, B. (2011) L’Approche par Problèmes pour l’enseignement des Sciences dans une formation d’Ingénieurs Généralistes Cesi : Etude des processus d’apprentissage et de développement des compétences. Master Professionnel Développement des compétences en formation des adultes, Option Ingénierie Pédagogique en Formation des Adultes. Université Paris Nanterre.

MEHALLEL, D. (2012) L’Approche par problème en question : entre résistance et persistance des apprenants. Etude des effets d’un dispositif d’apprentissage par problème pour l’apprentissage des sciences sur la motivation des élèves-ingénieurs du Cesi. Mémoire de Master 2 IPFA. Nanterre : Université Paris Nanterre.

POUTOT, G. BACILA, A. AGEORGES, P. BLANDIN, B. (2012) PBL in Mechanics: some results of a controlled experiment, in Proceedings of the World Conference in Physics Education, Istanbul, Turkey, July, 1st – 6th, 2012, p.405-412.

BLANDIN, B. AGEORGES, P. BACILA, A. POUTOT, G. (2013) Mise en œuvre de l’approche par problèmes dans une école d’ingénieurs: effets cognitifs et conatifs, in Actes du congrès de l’Actualité de la Recherche en Éducation et Formation (AREF – AECSE), Laboratoire LIRDEF – EA 3749 – Universités de Montpellier, Août 2013.

AGEORGES, P. POUTOT, G. BACILA, A. BLANDIN, B. (2014) Some Lessons from a 3-Year Experiment of Problem-Based Learning in Physics in a French School of Engineering, in American Journal of Educational Research 2.8 (2014): 564-567.

POUTOT, G., and BLANDIN, B. (2015) Exploration of Students’ Misconceptions in Mechanics using the FCI, in American Journal of Educational Research 3.2: 116-120.

Start of project: March 2010

End of project: September 2014