ERIC Identifier: ED482723
Publication Date: 2003-05-00
Author: Suping, Shanah M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental
Conceptual Change among Students in Science. ERIC Digest.
"Blue, clear, I mean clear, it's clear but when you look at the ocean it's
blue. But water is always clear." Thato
Thato, a 13 year old, responded with the words above when asked about
the color of
water. Her response indicates that there are some ideas about water
that she has not
yet reconciled. She is convinced that her ideas are correct and will
do all she can to
defend them. Her constructed knowledge, not scientifically accepted,
is called "naive
knowledge" or "prior conceptions." Vosniadou (2002) asserts that children
knowledge acquisition process by organizing their sensory experiences
influence of everyday culture and language into narrow, but coherent,
explanatory frameworks that may not be the same as currently accepted science.
Students' constructed knowledge typically has two properties: it can
be incorrect, and it can often impede the learning of conventionally accepted
knowledge (Chi & Roscoe,
2002). Chi and Roscoe differentiate two forms of naive knowledge: preconceptions
that can be easily and readily revised through instruction, and misconceptions
that is robust and highly resistant to change, even when not supported
Constructivism in its many forms has become a familiar view of learning
educators. From Piaget's work, assimilation has become identified with
and denotes the fitting of new experiences into existing mental schemes.
Accommodation, a related term, describes the changing of mental schemes
unable to explain one's new experiences (Geelan, 2000). Building on
these fundamental concepts, other theorists have articulated a theory that
explains and describes the "substantive dimensions of the process by which
people's central, organizing concepts change from one set of concepts to
another set, incompatible with the first" (Posner, Strike, Hewson, &
Gertzog, 1982, p. 211), a "conceptual change" learning model. The central
commitment of the conceptual change learning model is that learning is
a rational activity that can be defined as coming to comprehend and accept
ideas because they are seen as intelligible and rational; the "ahaa" experience
is of utmost importance in learning.
Posner et al. used Thomas Kuhn's idea of paradigms and Irme Lakatos's
theoretical hard core ideas to formulate their model of learning. Paradigms
theoretical hard core ideas are characterized as the "background of
commitments which organize research" (p. 212). For students, concoctions
experiences-physical, mental, and cultural-and beliefs constitute highly
conceptual ecologies that increase in complexity with age.
WHAT EXACTLY IS CONCEPTUAL CHANGE?
Posner et al. (1982), provided no formal definition of conceptual change,
of what it entails were given. A student's conceptual ecology is key
to the conceptual
change model because "without such concepts it is impossible for the
learner to ask a
question about the phenomenon, to know what would count as an answer
question, or to distinguish relevant from irrelevant features of the
phenomenon" (p. 212).
In an attempt to clarify the concept of conceptual change, various theorists
have offered competing views of the central process.
* To Vosniadou (2002), conceptual change is a process that enables students
synthesize models in their minds, beginning with their existing explanatory
This is conceived to be a gradual process that can result in a progression
models. Mortimer (1995) argues for what he calls a conceptual profile
change because"it is possible to use different ways of thinking in different domains"
and "the process of
construction of meaning does not always happen through an accommodation
previous conceptual frameworks in the face of new events or objects,
sometimes happen independently of previous conceptions" (p. 268). Though
arguments differ, the views of Mortimer and Vosniadou are related and
the importance of prior knowledge to learning.
* Chi and Roscoe (2002) conceive of conceptual change as repair of misconceptions.
Starting with naive conceptions, students must identify their faulty
repair them. In this view, misconceptions are miscategorizations of
conceptual change is the reassignment of concepts to correct categories.
*Conceptual change to diSessa (2002) is the reorganization of diverse
knowledge into complex systems in students' minds. In this view, conceptual
really about cognitively organizing fragmented naive knowledge.
*Ivarsson, Schoultz, and Saljo (2002) take a more radical stance in
that they think naive conceptions do not serve a purpose in conceptual
change because conceptual change is the appropriation of intellectual tools.
In this view, conceptual change results from changes in the way that students
use the tools in various contexts, and the change
actually occurs at the societal level.
How should science educators respond to these four competing views of
change? Mayer (2002) advises that there is need to specify testable
theories about the
mechanisms of conceptual change and find ways to test them empirically.
(2000) contends that these views of conceptual change treat learning
accommodation. White (2002) points out that advocates of conceptual
narrowly focused on mathematics and science, but that a closer look
at other subject
areas such as history indicate that conceptual change might be discipline,
or even topic,
specific. While the diverging views of conceptual change illustrate
interaction of epistemology and the psychology of learning, the challenges
cautions to curriculum developers and teachers that open questions
IMPLICATIONS FOR CLASSROOM PRACTICE
On a practical level, Posner et al. (1982) listed four conditions that
accommodation in student thinking:
1. There must be dissatisfaction with existing conceptions
2. A new conception must be intelligible
3. A new conception must appear initially plausible
4. A new concept should suggest the possibility of a fruitful research
Teachers who accept these four conditions as necessary for conceptual
occur are encouraged to take deliberate steps to create classroom interactions
produce these conditions. Students organize their lives around views
that they hold
about phenomena, so some conceptual changes that teachers consider
be highly resistant to change, and potentially threatening to students.
To become more
effective in nurturing conceptual change, teachers should seek to understand
naive conceptions so they can be addressed directly by instruction.
There is a large
volume of professional literature documenting specific student misconceptions,
particularly in the area of physics. Over 700 documents in the ERIC
research or practices relating to the combined ERIC Descriptors "misconceptions"
and "science education."
Though there remains a range of views on the process of conceptual change,
has been made in identifying instructional methods that promote conceptual
through critically examining and defending ideas. Wiser and Amin (2002)
use of computer models coupled with verbal interactions, with the teacher
promoting the scaffolding of ideas in accordance with Vygotsky's theory
of learning. Niaz, Aguilera, Maza, & Liendo (2002, p. 523) have also
concluded that if students are given the opportunity to argue and discuss
their ideas, their "understanding can go beyond the simple regurgitation
of experimental detail." It was further suggested that teachers include
more attention to the history and philosophy of science during instruction.
Mikkila-Erdmann (2002) suggested the use of written questions and statements
or text that guide students to accepted conceptions.
These suggestions imply that teacher preparation courses and professional
development opportunities for experienced teachers should include attention
to both the theoretical background of conceptual change, and instructional
methods that nurture conceptual change.
The conceptual change model is widely accepted among science educators.
there are competing views of how conceptual change occurs, there seems
to be no
argument about whether conceptual change occurs; it is central to learning
While theorists continue to debate the process of conceptual change,
teachers can nurture conceptual change by creating the conditions that promote conceptual
change. This task can be guided by attending to the quickly growing professional
literature that documents the various misconceptions common among students.
RESOURCES ON THE WEB
SciEd Resource Assistant (ERIC)
Teaching for Conceptual Change: Confronting Children's Thinking
Phi Delta Kappan
Teaching for Conceptual Change
Enhancing Learning Through Conceptual Change Teaching
National Association for Research in Science Teaching
Chi, M. T. H., & Roscoe, R. D. (2002). The process and challenges
change. In M. Limon & L. Mason (Eds.), "Reconsidering conceptual
change: Issues in
theory and practice" (pp. 3-27). Dordrecht: Kluwer.
DiSessa, A. A. (2002). Why conceptual ecology is a good idea. In M.
Limon & L. Mason (Eds.), "Reconsidering conceptual change: Issues in
theory and practice" (pp. 29-60). Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Geelan, D. R. (2000). Sketching some postmodern alternatives: Beyond
paradigms and research programs as referents for science education. "Electronic
Journal of Science Education," 5 (2). Retrieved November 9, 2001 from
Ivarsson, J., Schoultz, J., & Saljo, R. (2002). Map reading versus
Revisiting children's understanding of the shape of the earth. In M.
Limon & L. Mason
(Eds.), "Reconsidering conceptual change: Issues in theory and practice"
Limon, M. (2002). Conceptual change in history. In M. Limon & L.
"Reconsidering conceptual change: Issues in theory and practice" (pp.
Mayer, R. E. (2002). Understanding conceptual change: A commentary.
In M. Limon & L. Mason (Eds.), "Reconsidering conceptual change: Issues
in theory and practice" (pp. 101-111). Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Mikkila-Erdmann, M. (2002). Science learning through text: The effect
of text design and text comprehension skills on conceptual change. In M.
Limon & L. Mason (Eds.),"Reconsidering conceptual change: Issues in theory and practice" (pp.
Mortimer, E. F. (1995). Conceptual change or conceptual profile change?
"Science and Education," 4, 267-285.
Niaz, M., Aguilera, D., Maza, A., & Liendo, G. (2002). Arguments,
resistances, and conceptual change in students' understanding of atomic
"Science Education," 86, 505-525.
Posner, G. J., Strike, K. A., Hewson, P. W., & Gertzog, W. A. (1982).
Accommodation of a scientific conception: Towards a theory of conceptual
change. "Science Education," 66 (2), 211-227.
Vosniadou, S. (2002). On the nature of naive physics. In M. Limon &
L. Mason (Eds.), "Reconsidering conceptual change: Issues in theory and
practice" (pp. 61-76).
White, R. (2002). Content and conceptual change: A commentary. In M.
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Mason (Eds.), "Reconsidering conceptual change: Issues in theory and
291-297). Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Wiser, M., & Amin, T. G. (2002). Computer-based interactions for
conceptual change in science. In M. Limon & L. Mason (Eds.), "Reconsidering
conceptual change: Issues in theory and practice" (pp. 357-387). Dordrecht: