This study begins the task of mapping out the domain of valid, potentially helpful beliefs of students and raises the possibility of drawing on these intuitions in teaching conceptual material. Some issues are explored surrounding the identification of such intuitions, referred to as anchoring conceptions or anchors. We attempt to: (1) propose some organizing theoretical and observational definitions of the anchor construct; (2) present some initial findings from a diagnostic test designed to uncover anchors for physics instruction; and (3) provoke an initial discussion of the new methodological issues that arise in this domain. The results of the diagnostic test indicate that a number of group anchors exist. In addition, some unexpected non‐anchors were identified. Furthermore, evidence was found indicating that some anchoring examples may be ‘brittle’, i.e., evidence that the anchor could not be extended analogically to help a student make sense of a target situation. Finally, it is suggested that further research is needed to construct a theory of anchoring conceptions that would, for example, specify what characteristics would indicate that an anchoring conception can provide the basis for conceptual change via analogical extension.
ASJC Scopus subject areas