Types of Science Knowledge

Methodological Conceptual


Searching for Patterns and Theory (and schemata)

Relationships among

Generalizations - "Seeing that"

Searching for Patterns and Generalizations

Relationships among Concepts

Categorizing and Defining Concepts

Observations - "Seeing as" Facts







Knowledge Schema (Representations)





(Seeing That)



(Searching for Patterns)



Food Webs




Food Chains


(Categorizing and Defining)



Breeding Mosquitoes Small Predators Types of Fish Types of Plants


(Seeing As)


Itchy Mosquito Bites Seeing a Water Watching a Picking Apart a

Spider Skimming Sunfish Jump Pod From a

Along a Pondís in the Water Cattail










Middle School Student Beliefs About the World


Science Sample Alternative Conception



Physical Science

Light Magnifying glasses make light bigger.

Electricity Electricity is used up when it passes through a light bulb.

Magnetism A compass needle points in the direction you are going.

Heat Heat and cold are two substances.

Temperature Temperature relates to an objectís size.

Force Force, pressure, and energy are the same thing.

Motion Constant motion requires a constant force.

Matter Molecules expand when matter is heated.

Conservation Sugar disappears when dissolved.

Earth Science

Earth Thrown objects may fall off the earth when dropped in the Southern Hemisphere.

Prehistoric Life Dinosaurs and "cavemen" lived at the same time.

Rocks Rocks must be heavy.

Soil Soil must always have been in its present form.

Rain Empty clouds are refilled by the ocean or the sun boils the ocean to create water vapor.

Oceans Oceans are so large they never change or can be changed by humans.

Seasons Seasons are caused by the Earthís distance from the sun.

Night Day and night are caused by the sun going around the earth or the earthís revolution around the sun.

Moon Different countries see different phases of the moon on the same day.

Solar System The solar system includes everything in the universe.

Planets Planets cannot be seen with the naked eye or appear to the naked eye as small disks.

Stars Stars are all at the same distance.

Zodiac Astrology (location of the planets in the stars) is able to predict the future.

Sun The sun is directly overhead at noon.

Biological Science

Fruits A tomato is not a fruit.

Plants Plants need fertilizer for food.

Animals Acquired characteristics can be inherited.

Osmosis Fluids move freely in and out of cells no matter what type or kind of material is involved.

Amino Acids Amino acids come from the cytoplasm of a cell.

Chlorophyll When part a leaf looses its green color, that part of the plant is dead.




High School Student Beliefs About the World


Physical Science - Specific misconceptions and altering teaching strategies

Force and motion

1. Misconceptions

a. Force and pressure and energy are the same thing

b. Constant motion requires a constant force

c. The harder your push it, will cause any object to move fastest

d. If an object isn't moving, there are no forces on it

2. Strategies

a. Allow students to expose and articulate misconceptions

b. Remember students always have their own personal theories. Students need to construct mental representations of alternative ideas presented.

c. Challenge studentís ideas with real world or mental experiences. Change in ideas will be slow, but the result is long-term change.

d. Allow students to reflect on planned experiences in class

e. Maintain good classroom atmosphere for good discussion

f. Allow students to predict experiments' outcomes. Have students consider

many interpretations or possibilities.

g. Teach the ideas conceptually and quantitatively through narrative discussion. Use various materials and situations when teaching one concept. The teacher should take on the role of motivator, facilitator, diagnostician, guide, innovator, experimenter and/or researcher.

h. Use meaningful and correct language

i. use appropriate models and analogies always explaining analogy context, use and limitations of comparison. Illustrate reversible processes. Focus on steady-state conditions.

j. Change students' ideas by demonstrating discrepant events

k. Explain and demonstrate the terms force, mass, pressure, speed and direction

Gaseous states

1. Misconceptions

a. Air molecules motionless

b. Air molecules expand

c. Air is often personified by students

d. Compressed air is considered heaped up or shriveled

e. Confuse volume and

f. Air can't be heated

g. Gases can't be heated

h. Gases exert force in only one direction

i. The atmosphere exerts a pressure only on a surface

j. Nature abhors a vacuum

k. Air sucks things up

l. Pressure is density

2. Strategies

a-j above plus

k. Explain and demonstrate the term pressure

l. Study air in motion first, then study motionless air

m. Help students to consider the characteristics of the outside of a container and the inside characteristics.

Matter in the gaseous phase

1. Misconceptions

a. There is no space between gas particles.

b. Air particles/molecules don't have intrinsic motion.

c. Non-physical factors may create force and motion.

(1) Animism

(2) Natural place of the substance, air exists in atmosphere

(3) Partial vacuum is does not exist, must be vacuum or normal air

2. Strategies

a-k above plus

k. Explain and demonstrate the terms force, pressure, density, speed and direction

l. Explain and demonstrate the origin and effects of pressure

Mathematics - Specific misconceptions and altering strategies

Ratio and probability

1. Misconceptions

a. Ratio in a physical event is determined by addition or subtraction, eg.4 is to 6 as 6 is to 8

b. All events must show change for a variable to have an effect

2. Strategies

a-k above plus

k. Explain and demonstrate the terms proportion, ratio, and probability

l. Explain and demonstrate the real world origin and effects of proportion, ratio, and probability

Biological Science - Specific misconceptions and altering strategies


1. Misconceptions

a. Do not understand the term concentration.

b. Hydrostatic potential is not understood.

c. Insist on an observable movement of solutions.

d. Membranes can't be semipermeable.

e. Solvents always move, but solutes never move.

2. Strategies

Use more experiments and drawings to counteract misconceptions.

More interactive discussion is also needed.

Amino Acids

1. Misconceptions

a. Amino acids, not enzymes, are products of translation.

b. Amino acids come from the cytoplasm.

2. Strategies

Consider the following four learning problem types: word association, instantiation, role conflict, and knowledge gap of students.




(This is an example of misconceptions which can be found in any science topic area - for example nutrition, environment, energy, physical and chemical change, etc.)

Students may hold the alternative view that:

1. "Heat " and "temperature" can be used synonymously - some students may think that these words have the same meaning or that more heat means higher temperature.

2. The sensation of coldness to due to transfer of cold towards the body - the sensation of hotness is also due to heat transfer towards the body,.

3. Heat and cold seen as opposite, fluid materials - some students use the word "heat" as a noun and write about it as though it flows into and out of objects. This may reflect little more than customary use of language. On the other hand it may reflect an underlying conception of heat as "stuff". This conflicts with accepted view of heat as energy in the process of transfer and may make it more difficult for students to differentiate at a later stage between heat and the internal energy of possessed by matter. Many students refer to cold and heat as though they are opposite substances.

4. Some substances are 'naturally' colder than others - the idea that substances in thermal contact are at the same temperature is not understood by some students. They suggest that substances have a "natural' temperature (e.g. metal is naturally colder than plastic).

5. There are no degrees of conductivity: students appear to think that either an object conducts heat (like metal) or it does not (like wood).

6. Metals have a greater capacity for heat than other materials: because metals feel cold students think that metals draw heat towards them, or naturally hold heat more effectively.

7. Particles of matter have macroscopic attributes: students may think that as heat is transferred to a substance, constituent particles expand, or melt.

8. Substances have "natural" melting and boiling points: the fact that a substance based on some observable property has reached the"natural" temperature at which melting occurs may be a sufficient explanation for some students (e.g. wax melts at a low temperature because it is soft).

9. Change of state occurs over a range of temperatures: despite identifying a melting point correctly from a graph many students suggest that melting would occur over a temperature range. Everyday experience may be confusing here, because rarely are substances which are observed melting or boiling maintained at uniform temperatures.


(modified from Driver, 1986a)

Methods for Restructuring Studentsí Conceptions


Broaden the range of application of a conception

Differentiate a conception

Build experiential bridges to a new conception

Relate and update prior knowledge to new conceptual problems

Import a different model or analogy

Progressively shape a conception

Construct an alternative conception







A. How can we make use of what we know about students' personal knowledge about science concepts (misconceptions)?

1. First, we can encourage students to talk about their ideas either in small groups. This may help learning in a number of ways:

a. It helps students to be aware of their own ideas. When students talk through their ideas they can often see the limitations and problems in themselves.

b. Students may also appreciate that different people can think differently about the same things. Appreciating a different point of view without necessarily believing it requires less egocentrism and some imagination.

2. When students have expressed their own ideas, learning activities should be devised to test out a variety of their ideas and theories.

If the science experience is to encourage the development of students' thinking then it is important that the alternative theories to be tested are their own rather than ones generated by the teacher.

B. What experiences may be helpful in developing students' ideas on the specific topic of heat?

In order to move towards more effective views of heat transfer and change of state, students need to learn to differentiate between sensory experience and scientific fact. This includes:

1. Experiences which establish that different objects in thermal contact with one another are at the same temperature (despite the difference in how they feel).

2. Experiences which help students to make the distinction conceptually between temperature and heat.

3. Student opportunities to explain the transfer of heat and the change of state in the real world.

4. Spending more time considering what is happening at a descriptive level when a range of substances are heated and a change of state occurs.

It is useful to study processes in reverse: heating and cooling, evaporation and condensation, conduction of heat towards the body and away from it. What may appear to be a simple reversal for us may be far from obvious to students.

C. How are sensory experiences and theory linked together?

There is an important relationship to be established between observations resulting from sensory experiences and the scientific interpretation of these observations. For instance, the different temperature sensations experienced on touching metal and wood can be interpreted using ideas about heat transfer and relative conductivities. Students, however, tend do fit the theory to their observations, and some students may reason that if the metal feels colder, it is because it is colder. Allowing students to test their alternative theories about their experiences may help them to make the connection between theory and observations, as will reference to observations and theory on the part of the teacher.

In practice, reality is much more complex than the classroom. Students' personal knowledge is often more "realistic" than the idealized situations with which they are presented in science lessons!

Students need to understand that science idealizations are made by scientists in explaining phenomena, but they have to recognize which assumptions are appropriate in a given situation. For this reason, relating actual phenomena to the scientific model used to interpret them is important. It is useful to give students time to understand phenomena at a qualitative level before and during the introduction of quantitative ideas.


(modified from Driver, 1986a)






Alternative Beliefs of Teaching and Learning



(modified from E. Smith, 1990 in Rowe, The Process of Knowing)







1. Before students experience any formal teaching about science concepts in the science classroom, they are likely to have formulated intuitive ideas about the concepts which enable them to explain and predict familiar phenomena to their own satisfaction. These intuitive ideas are reinforced by students' everyday use of language. Intuitive ideas may be context dependent students do not appear to have consistent frameworks which they use to interpret events. However, the persistence of some of these ideas is strong.

2. When students are presented with ideas in science lessons, they make them fit into their intuitive ideas, and the result may be a mix of classroom science and intuitive science.

3. When they meet formal science lessons in school, students have to actively modify and restructure their own ideas. This requires a willingness and effort on the part of the learner. If the ideas held by the students are to be taken into account, teaching cannot simply be viewed as the 'telling' or 'giving' of knowledge to passively sitting students. Teaching involves helping each student to construct for herself or himself, the accepted ideas. The starting point of a teaching sequence is then the intuitive ideas students bring with them. Use the learning cycle helps students restructure their ideas. The learning cycle fosters meaningful learning.

4. Having determined the prior know;edge held by students in a class, the role of the teacher then becomes that of prescriber and facilitator of the appropriate student learning activities. The professional ability of the teacher to make such decisions about the needs of the students, difficulty or level of the content, and the teaching sequence and strategy is of greater value in the teaching and learning process, then the textbook or other curriculum materials provided in the traditional classroom.




Steps in Planning A Class Lesson Using the Learning Cycle for a New Idea or Thought Process (Thinking Skill/Algorithm)

The learning cycle sequence is not a blueprint for teaching, but a set of decision points that all teachers must address in the planning process if they are to adequately help students learn important ideas. Recognizing these decision points assists teachers in deciding to act in keeping with what is known about how learning takes place.


* Attempt to confront existing knowledge of students. Start with a "key" question that involves them in an physical/mental activity which focuses their attention,

* Focus students attention on experiences related to the new idea or skill to be taught,

* Encourage students to recall and relate previous knowledge to new knowledge,

* Bring out and make public what the students now know, their prior knowledge, and

* Provide an opportunity for students to try out their prior knowledge in the new setting.


* Ask students to reflect on and discuss the results of Exploration activity to provide connections to focus idea of the lesson.

* Provide a clear explanation using multimedia and interacting with students where possible describing aspects, analogies, contexts, and uses.

* Provide clear examples or model the new skill.

* Provide student practice using the new knowledge

* Provide a concise brief closure.


* Provide additional student practice activities if needed. Use personally relevant examples, not abstract, repetitive practice.

* Provide student application activities in new relevant contexts. Multiple activities should transfer the new knowledge to increasingly real world situations and involve more relevance to students personal and future needs.

* Provide a summary which highlights and focuses attention on the experiences where the new knowledge was learned.



The Learning Cycle

Teaching for Conceptual Change


Exploration Phase


To provide background experience and learning through studentís' own actions and reactions and

To introduce aspects and values of a new idea -- concept, variable, generalization or thinking skill (enhances assimilation).

Exploration allows students to confront and make evident their own thinking/representation of the idea or skill to be learned.

Characteristics include:

1. Encourages learning through studentís own inquiry and focuses interest

2. Involves minimal guidance or expectation on the teacher's part

3. Often provides an experience which confronts students old way of thinking

4. Begins with a well planned "key" question from the teacher

5. Involves students working in cooperative learning groups

6. Encourages observation of natural world

7. Raises questions for the students

8. Provides for student action with hands-on materials, collecting and organizing data

9. Encourages students mental actions in selecting resources discussion and debate

10. Encourages trying out prior ideas, suspending judgment, predicting, hypothesizing and testing

11. Provides students with adequate time to relate prior knowledge with new idea

12. Allows students to know the purpose and objective of the lesson

13. Allows teacher to know present student understanding in the lesson objective area



The Learning Cycle

Teaching for Conceptual Change


Invention Phase


To explain an alternative (new) idea or situation leading students to mentally construct new patterns of reasoning (encourages accommodation).

Invention builds on the Exploration by guiding the students through a more direct teaching format, to experience and develop the concept or skill more fully or to a higher order.

Characteristics include:

1. Continues development of the new idea or skill (reasoning pattern) in students through teacher directed reflection and discussion of Exploration experience

2. Involves communication of information and ideas offering alternative ideas (solutions) for the confrontation

3. Allows learning from "explanation" which includes an interesting variety in teaching actions, multimedia and interactions with students describing aspects, ranges, contexts, and uses of the new idea or skill.

4. Introduces idea or skill introduced in a structured manner through additional student experience using a variety of demonstrations, analogies, audio-visual materials, sense modalities, textbook readings, or other medium

5. Encourages students to develop as much of the new reasoning pattern as possible through providing one or more complete cycles of explanation, giving clear examples, modeling, and checking for understanding

6. Offers students time to question, try out and practice the new alternative explanation

7. Ends with a concise closure describing the main idea or skill introduced


The Learning Cycle

Teaching for Conceptual Change


Expansion Phase


To apply and transfer the new reasoning pattern (idea or skill) to other example(s), situations and contexts extending the range of applicability to help stabilize (make permanent) the new knowledge

Expansion activities allow studentís to practice, apply, and transfer the idea or skill just explained in the Invention.

Characteristics include:

1. Provides for learning by additional practice where students use labels, definitions, explanations, and skills in new, but similar situations. It is important to use personally relevant examples, not abstract, repetitive practice.

2. Provides additional time and experiences for students to ask questions, observe, record, use explanations, make decisions, and design experiments to apply the new idea or skill in new, but similar situations.

3. Encourages transfer of the new knowledge to various real world contexts and other times different from where the new idea or skill was explained.

4. Relates student activities to personally and professionally relevant settings, thus, helping complete abstraction from classroom and textbook concrete examples.

5. Ends with a lesson summary which highlights and focuses attention on the experiences where the new knowledge was learned




Note: If a phase is eliminated or all students are expected to demonstrate specific accomplishments after each one, then the overall effectiveness of the learning cycle will be compromised.





Learning Cycle Lesson Plan Format


The learning cycle lesson plan should contain the following sections.

Lesson Information

Key Idea or title


Prerequisite skills and concepts

Lesson Activities:

1. Exploration Phase



Introduction to Lesson

Procedure: student activities which:

confront prior knowledge

relate previous knowledge to new idea

try out prior knowledge

Evaluation - monitor and diagnose student needs

2. Invention Phase



Procedure: teacher/students activities which

provide explanations

provide examples

provide practice

provide closure

Evaluation - monitor and diagnose student needs

3. Expansion Phase



Procedure: Students activities which:

provide additional practice

provide application and transfer

provide lesson summary

Evaluation - student understanding


Summary for the Learning Cycle

1. Most of your students need a learning sequence different from traditional methods used to recall facts of science.

2. The worthwhile objectives (concepts, generalizations, theory, thinking skills, or dispositions) in the science topics you teach require a strategy of instruction different from traditional classroom presentation.

3. For these important ideas most of your students need a learning strategy different from traditional expository methods used for learning to recall facts.

4. Identify these important or key ideas in advance to be taught using an learning cycle strategy.

5. Use a learning cycle approach to instruction for each key idea or skill.

6. The learning cycle consists of Exploration, Invention, and Expansion (EIE). Each phase must be experienced by the student in the order described.

7. A learning cycle must be planned for a specific idea or skill. Do not mix several important concepts or generalizations in a single learning cycle.

8. Demonstrate a questioning and reflecting attitude towards the content you teach. Generate hypotheses, examine alternative explanations and encourage your students to do the same. Ask students: What do you know about....? Why do you think....? How do you explain....? What evidence do you have? Reward appropriate responses from your students.

9. Begin using the learning cycle slowely through trial lessons. This provides time for you and your students to learn to become more familiar with the changes in learning activities.

10. As a novice you will meet problems and have disappointments. Expert teacher status may be years in the making, but the goal is worth it.