Conceptual Change

The conceptual change literature is a testament to itself for sure. When one reads about conceptual change, one interprets that literature within one’s existing conceptual frameworks about teaching, learning, and education–those conceptual frameworks having been forged out of one’s everyday experience with teaching, learning, and education. Like the intuitive theories of physics, biology, or psychology discussed in that literature, learners of conceptual change have their own intuitive theories of learning and schooling, which lead to interpretations of that literature that are strange and bizarre to those who know that literature well. Just as physicists are often surprised by the conceptions of their physics students; I am often surprised by the ways in which earlier learners of conceptual change interpret that literature.

Some of the ideas they seem to take away are:

If you have just the right lesson, conceptual change should happen for a whole class of children in a single day.

Children’s ideas are a real problem, and it’s a teacher’s job to root them out as quickly as possible.

Understanding a students’ ideas is to state what’s not right about it in relation to correct conceptions.

It is the knowing of “correct” conceptions that is of ultimate importance for learners and primary goal of inquiry.

The more I talk and work with future teachers, the more I become curious about the kinds of inquiries that will support them in re-conceptualizing teaching and learning in meaningful ways. It’s certainly not going to be from me just telling them things or them just reading things.



3 thoughts on “Conceptual Change

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  1. I’m really struck by your succinct paraphrase of some of your students’ ideas about teaching. Those seem very familiar, but articulating the way you did makes a difference.

    My own criterion for when I’ve really understood what someone else is saying is that I can say it to them and they say, “Yes, you totally get it.” Do you think your students would have a response like that to your statements? Or do they see themselves differently than you see them?

    Another criterion for when I’ve really understood someone else’s idea is that I really, really get it, almost to the point of forgetting what my own idea had been because the new idea makes so much sense. Your statements don’t meet that criterion for me. Maybe if I adjusted them a little:

    – A single powerful experience can cause conceptual change in the course of an hour. Good lessons can provide such experiences to a lot of students all at once.
    – Children have false beliefs that get in the way of their functioning well in their own lives and hinder future learning. Teachers are responsible for removing these impediments whenever they can.
    – Rather than just rudely declaring that wrong ideas are wrong, teachers should show respect and understanding for an incorrect idea by demonstrating specifically what is incorrect about it.
    – The most important thing for learners is to learn not only the correct conceptions, but also what evidence supports those conceptions. The goal of inquiry is to build up the evidence that supports correct conceptions.

    I can almost, not quite but almost, really feel these as if they were mine. I think there is, at least, a former Rachel who would have been very comfortable with each of these statements. What do you think of them? Do they still capture what you were trying to say, or have I changed them into something different?

    1. I think this is great. The truth is this: half the reason I wrote this post is because of my own difficulty in graciously accepting their early ideas about teaching and learning. I have so much practice listening and accepting students’ ideas about the physical world; it doesn’t necessarily transfer to students’ thinking about other topics.

      So, in terms of your suggestions, I think the first and second ones are spot on. The third and fourth don’t seem quite right to me. I don’t often see bits of trying to respect students ideas (more like categorize their ideas and give them names). I also don’t see them thinking much about the role of evidence in inquiry, but rather the role of constructivist philosophy in inquiry. Here’s my attempt to rewrite them.

      – As a teacher, it is incredibly helpful to know and to be able to notice students’ ideas, especially when they are wrong, not just at the level of topics in science, but at the level of basic concepts.

      – The goal of inquiry instruction is to help students figure out the right ideas for themselves. Usually this requires some hands-on activities, discussion, and scaffolding from teacher.

      It’s not quite right, but maybe it’s progress for me.

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