11 thoughts on “Science 271 – Article Comments and Questions

  1. “Research on Alternative Conceptions in Science”

    This paper made me both sad and hopeful at the same time. Sad, because I realized that there are some misconceptions which are extreme, considering the level of education that a student is supposed to have. Hopeful, because I found the research by the three professors to be extensive, very detailed, and very thorough. This means that nowadays there is a lot more knowledge in terms of all the different aspects that can determine an efficient and productive education. This eventually gives rise to a general and sustained effort by ‘good’ educators to innovate, facilitate and evolve teaching with new strategies that can eliminate as much as possible misconceptions that exist in sciences. Their findings and conclusions seemed very well-argued; however I don’t know the extent to which they are actually applied.
    There were many points in the paper that drew my attention, either that had to do with misconceptions, or the various solutions offered to fight them. The fact that 25% of students don’t know that a metal and a plastic ball will fall to the ground at the same time is very concerning and I believe that this is more of a personal issue to any student, no matter what kind of education he/she has received beforehand. So then I asked my roommate, who doesn’t have any idea of physics, and he answered correctly. I asked my girlfriend who doesn’t like math and physics and she answered correctly. So then my assumption was that somebody’s general intelligence is significant into understanding basic concepts no matter his/her field of preference. But then again, the paper argues that asking people with a mean IQ of 146 or asking people with mean IQ of 116 doesn’t really change these outcomes. Students of any age, gender, or intelligence can have any misconception at any time. I do not exclude myself since I am sure I have other misconceptions that I haven’t discovered yet. My question is if there can be an actual and realistic way of teaching that can prevent misconceptions. Clearly, emphasizing basic ideas and concepts to very young children can build a very strong base and the strategies listed at p.198 are indeed rational and convincing, but can they build a sufficient curriculum in order to limit these percentages?
    I get annoyed when I think of this vicious circle of a badly educated teacher that will offer a similarly bad education to future bad teachers because I find it very hard to control and intervene in it. So, my concern focuses mostly on the fact that even if there is a great development in terms of effective teaching, since the “conceptual history of the individual learner is idiosyncratic and difficult to trace”, can there be an inclusive way to account for everyone and everyone’s background?

  2. I had not heard about alternative conceptions previously, so I found it really interesting to read about the many studies that have been completed on this topic. An understanding of alternative conceptions is necessary to improve science education. This research needs to be applied to classroom practice, and the article mentions some of the ways that this is happening. Not only do instructional techniques need to be improved, but the alternative conceptions that teachers hold need to be addressed as well. Additionally, the article advocates training teachers in pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), to show how particular science topics are best taught. After reading this article, PCK sounds like a great addition to teacher training.
    It was interesting to learn about the instructional strategies that have resulted from this research, especially the metacognitive strategies. What the article noted about students’ ability to judge their own understanding makes sense, but I wonder to what extent these skills can be taught. I also agree with what was said about shifting control of learning to the student, although this can be difficult for students still maturing. Another interesting point was made on page 194 regarding “the match between the students’ short-term goals of performing well on classroom assessments and the teacher’s long-term objective of facilitating meaningful learning.” Too often, these goals do not match up, and scoring well on tests does not mean that the student fully understands the material. It helps to improve assessments, but as the article states on page 194, “understanding must be rewarded.” The focus needs to be shifted from tests to true learning.
    Another important point made by the article on page 194 is that “more effective instruction takes more time to implement.” This summer I worked at a summer program for gifted students, and my class was taking a full year of high school honors chemistry in three weeks. The students had only one day to learn each chapter, and some topics had to be removed form the class because of lack of time. The students were forced to cram and I do not think that they will remember much of the material in a few months. Even in a regular, year-long class, students need time to fully learn concepts. Instructional methods where students develop the concepts, such as the methods we discussed last week, take more time than traditional lectures. Quality should be emphasized over quantity.
    One section of the article that I found intriguing discussed the parallels between students’ understanding of science and the history of science. It was suggested that studying the history of science could help students with their alternative conceptions. I had not thought about this previously, but I have learned pieces of history in many of the science classes that I have taken. Last year in England I took a course on the history of science, and I am currently taking a class on Great Ideas and Theorems in Mathematics, which is about the history of math. I had previously thought that learning about the history is just for personal interest. However, I see that it can teach about how discoveries have been made in science and how far we have come. Perhaps learning about some of the personal stories of the scientists helps students to remember their theories. Students may also learn about the persistence and dedication required in science.

  3. I found this paper to be very intriguing, but honestly, not very surprising. Over the years, I have seen many articles about the lack of ability in science students to be able to answer even the simplest of questions. But why is this? Even after students take an entire course in one topic of science, why are they still not able to answer simple questions? I like one of the points that are brought up in this paper that asserts that students have two forms of approaching topics in physics, at least, especially energy; a physical system and a real world system. But what are these two systems? In a physical system, students use what they learn in school to answer questions while in a real world system, students attempt to answer questions using their own sense of knowledge. I found it interesting that it is believed that a master of both and an ability to switch between the two is what is most important for students to develop. I was also intrigued by a later part of the article that stated that science misconceptions or alternative conceptions are more common across cultural areas than across age groups. Basically, It is saying that the age of a student does not necessarily affect the difficulty they will have in a subject matter for it says even the honors students will have conceptual difficulties. While I know that to be true, I have a hard time believing that age is as little of deciding factor in a student’s ability as the article makes it out to be.

  4. I found this paper verbalized many concepts that occur very commonly, but are easily overlooked by teachers and even students themselves. It is hard for a teacher to know when a student answers questions wrong on a test if they are incorrect because they just did not know the material or because there has been a misconception of the material, meaning the student has formed an alternate conception. There are many occurrences when students are attentively taking notes in class, yet still do not do well on tests. After reading this article I see that it is due to their formation of alternate conceptions. They may have misunderstood the way a teacher presented new material and recorded it incorrectly, however at the time this student is unaware that what they have taken in is not right. When it is time to be tested on the material, the student will study from their incorrect notes, still thinking them to be correct, and be marked as wrong. It is then at the teachers’ discretion to analyze why the student did not give the correct answer. This is why it is crucially important for the gap between teachers and researchers to be closed, so teachers can learn of the existence and how to eliminate the misconceptions. Metacognitive strategies are potentially a great way to eliminate this problem of unconscious misconceptions. This is a program where students ‘learn how to learn” and this will help them to make their learning process more meaningful. The article states that poor students frequently misjudge when they understand something. It is with metacognitive strategies that students’ alternative conceptions will be made visible to themselves and they will begin to work to fix them.
    It is also easy for students to develop misconceptions because they are being forced to learn an excessive amount of information, much of which is not crucially important to the respected field. I believe that Project 2016 is a key way to fix this problem because it states that, “schools do not need to be asked to teach more and more content, but rather to focus on what is essential to scientific literacy and to teach it more effectively”(AAAS, 1989). If a class is focused on the essentials to the scientific field a deeper understanding of science will result. When science classes are filled with many small details it becomes a class of memorization, as opposed to the deep conceptual learning. This explains why alternative conceptions are found throughout ages and abilities and why broad questions are unable to be answered even after taking an entire semester on the subject.

  5. “Identifying and Improving Students’ Conceptual Understanding in Science and Engineering”

    This chapter provides a more “formal” view of DBER since it focuses on the ways through which misconceptions are discovered and at the same time identifies the most appropriate and accepted methods to change that. I understand and support the need for categorizing incorrect notions and common mistakes as an effective tool for instructors to comprehend patterns of mistakes and be able to discover the source of those problems. This means that the role of the instructor is, and it should be, the most important one in changing the students’ misconceptions.

    As the paper claims, “teaching for conceptual change requires that instructors understand and explicitly address everyday conceptions and help students to refine or replace them”. This sentence summarized for me the whole idea of the chapter since no method or test or inventory can fix a problem that has deep roots. For example, a conceptual test in the beginning and at the end of a science course doesn’t necessarily provide adequate evidence on actual conceptual change throughout a semester’s teaching. Memory plays its role too, and when some time has passed, what seemed to be a conceptual change at the final test, can easily be just another piece of knowledge that was forgotten because it wasn’t actually ever fully understood. Therefore, time and, most importantly, the personal intervention of an instructor is what I think makes the biggest difference. The ability of a teacher to identify the source of an alternative conception and successfully find the most appropriate way in order to gradually replace it is what I believe can make a difference, no matter how successful other methods can be shown to be. If an instructor, having the knowledge of his students’ prior experiences and type of education, purposefully focuses on achieving a certain conceptual change, then, by using any effective methods in the appropriate manner he/she can make a real difference. Even this chapter, at the top of page 73, argues that there is a little evidence of conceptual change over time as a result of certain teaching techniques. Considering that and thinking of my personal experience as a student and as a teacher, it was only when a professor really understood the source of my thought that could actually find an effective way to replace it with the correct thought. Similarly, when I teach my students Math, only after they are completely honest and describe to me their actual thought process and where it comes from, I am fully able to describe a concept in the most effective way and actually see the difference that I want.

  6. “Identifying and Improving Students’ Conceptual Understanding in Science and Engineering”

    I definitely agree that it’s difficult but necessary for an instructor to be aware of the diverse spectrum of levels of prior knowledge (none, incomplete, or incorrect) that exist in his/her classroom and might have led to certain misconceptions. Additionally, it’s important to look at what causes the misconceptions and flaws in a student’s reasoning ability, because by “understanding their roots in deeper cognitive mechanisms,” it will be easier to correct or prevent such issues.

    One of the levels of incorrect knowledge, as defined by Chi (2008), dealt with a student assigning core concepts to laterally inappropriate categories. Upon reading this I immediately felt like this goes back to the balance between understanding a topic versus just memorizing facts. If a student understands a concept then they can think through facts they don’t know right away to come out with a valid conclusion.

    Something else that stuck out for me in the article was the statement that complex subjects required repeated exposure. I can definitely agree with this from my own experiences- especially with certain topics in physics, I had to see them in multiple different courses throughout college before I finally came to a better understanding of them. I think this makes in hard in some respects for an instructor teaching an introductory science course, because he/she needs recognize that no matter how clear he/she explains things, some of the more difficult concepts can only be remedied with repeated exposure.

  7. “Identifying and Improving Students’ Conceptual Understanding in Science and Engineering”

    In this article I found the categorization of the three different levels of knowledge very interesting. This stood out to me because I had never thought about how the different levels of understanding required different techniques for teaching. This was explained how teaching students that have no prior knowledge is just adding knowledge, those with incomplete knowledge are having gaps filled in, and the students with incorrect knowledge have to be taught in a way to prompt conceptual change. I can see how these different levels of knowledge can influence heavily how subjects are learned, as iterated in the report, “prior knowledge can either interfere with or facilitate new learning” (61). By students having these different levels of knowledge effective teaching can be very difficult. A teacher may not be able to learn where each student stands in their degree of understanding and he or she is not able to alter the type of instruction needed for each student’s status of knowledge. Therefore this article does a good job of inferring what needs to be done to generate conceptual change, however it is a difficult task for teachers to accomplish.

    I also found this article to be very helpful in that it provided explanations for where incorrect ideas come from. One that I think most students would be able to relate to is the explanation that says students use their personal experiences to create explanations for science. It is often very challenging to essentially change one’s normal range of thinking and either expand or shrink it down. I have seen this happen many times in biology and chemistry classes when students, myself included, may struggle to understand something because it is an intangible concept and it is not something that the student is able to ever witness. Without being able to understand the level at which something is functioning it is very easy to formulate misconceptions. The student may not be able to relate the topic to their personal experiences and therefore will struggle to conceptualize what they are learning.

  8. “Identifying and Improving Students’ Conceptual Understanding in Science and Engineering”
    The main thing I liked about this article was how in-depth it went on about the research conducted to track the progress of students in particular courses. The first one talked about was called concept inventories, or CI. I think this is something similar to what was administered at the beginning of Phys 131/132. The main idea behind CIs is for students to answer simple conceptual questions about physics. The questions themselves are simple, but many students still get stuck on them due to their misconceptions. For example, although I had a firm understanding of physics when taking the CI for the first time, I still got stuck on many question and felt unsure of the whole thing when I turned it in. These types of assessments are very important I think because they address the key/important concepts that students get held up on. By having CIs at the beginning of 131/132, the class was most definitely more structured to the needs of the class to help address and fix the misconceptions. I also liked the use of a CI at the end of the semester to take note of the progress actually made by the class. In theory, these concept inventories seem like a good idea, and in practice, they actually work as well.

  9. “Identifying and Improving Students’ Conceptual Understanding in Science and Engineering”
    This section from the DBER report refers to the idea of learning taking time, which was discussed with an earlier article. On page 70, the article notes the need for “repeated exposure” and says that “students are more likely to change their conceptions when they interact more with the content and the learning process.” It seems like many of the studies we have read about were concerned with a single semester or year-long course and may not address the issue of needing longer periods of time to learn. The statistic on page 58 that it takes ten years to develop expertise in a subject struck me, and it reinforces the idea that we need time to learn. What exactly is an expert? Does an expert continue to learn? I also find the description of learning as the movement from novice to expert understanding to be an interesting description. Is “expert” being used in a different sense here than in saying it takes ten years to become one? How far along this path do we expect students to be when they finish a science class?
    Another section that I found interesting was on page 61, where the article mentions “fragments of information that students have memorized but not connected in a coherent, conceptual framework.” I feel that often the focus of a class forces the students to memorize rather than connect. Even if students have a choice, students often simply memorize because that is all that they know to do. This issue needs to be addressed if students are to experience true understanding.
    The article discusses how “conceptual change depends on students’ understanding that their beliefs are hypotheses or models rather than facts” on page 69. This sounds like an interesting approach to addressing students’ misconceptions. It makes sense that it would be easier to change students’ conceptions if they realize that they do not hold scientifically correct views. However, I wonder how one would know that one’s beliefs are simply hypotheses rather than facts.

  10. I liked that this article recognizes many different theories. I found myself asking a lot of questions about the research methods, most prominently about the researchers themselves. Because this is not data that can be gathered as true or false, correct or incorrect, I was wondering what standards were in place to keep the researchers on the same page. Additionally, what defines a student as knowing enough or making the right connections? I found the idea of concept maps interesting; it definitely gives a glimpse into the connections the student is making. I would be interested to see how a student would construct a concept map for him/herself in comparison to the one that a researcher would construct.
    On page 70, the article brings up the unexplored area of “how long the conceptual change lasts.” I was interested by this because considering that the initial conceptions are highly resistant to change, would the conceptual change be as resistant? Or, once removed from the environment in which this change was made, would it be more likely for the student’s conceptions to “revert”? I was also thinking about the teacher’s goal for their class. Conceptual change takes time and various methods, which take a lot of effort on the teacher’s behalf. If the teacher is just teaching to the test, these methods might seem needlessly complex. If the teacher is attempting to have the students gain a deep conceptual understanding, how will that affect the pace and curriculum of the class? There is additional pressure when considering an upcoming standardized test. I think another big challenge is continuity. Even if one teacher is effective in implementing conceptual change, if another teacher the following year, presumably at the next level, does not follow through, students can be left with fragments of understanding, unable to make conceptual connections in the more advanced class. Therefore, I think that something like conceptual change should be a schoolwide goal, supporting the teachers with professional development and resources that they might need.

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