Academic journal article Science Scope

I Get It! Moving Students from Misconceptions to Conceptual Change

Academic journal article Science Scope

I Get It! Moving Students from Misconceptions to Conceptual Change

Article excerpt

When students understand class content, misconceptions are transformed into more accurate scientific understanding (Anderson 2007). The goal becomes for students to develop, with your guidance, scientifically accurate content knowledge that can be applied to new situations or to prior learning while providing evidence of understanding. This article provides an inquiry-based approach to moving students from commonly held misconceptions to solid conceptual understanding (see Figure 1).


Our goal in creating this four-phase process of conceptual change is to provide teachers with a research-based, classroom-tested approach to help move all students toward deep, accurate scientific understanding (Marshall 2013). The Conceptual Change Model (CCM) by Posner et al. (1982) is rooted in Jean Piaget's work concerning how children think (Larkin 2012). The CCM is based on the idea that students' previously held conceptions influence the ways in which students receive and process new ideas. The four-phase process that we developed is based on existing literature concerning conceptual change and student learning, including the CCM. The rationale for our four phases is based on tenets of the CCM. The four critical phases associated with conceptual change are (1) perturb student thinking, (2) provide common concrete experiences, (3) facilitate sense making and practice, and (4) require transference and application. Guiding students through the four phases helps reframe student-centered learning toward deeper, more accurate understanding (Scott, Asoko, and Leach 2007)

A guided-inquiry approach

A guided-inquiry lesson focusing on the conservation of energy is used in this article to illustrate the process of constructing solid conceptual understanding of the conservation of energy. Realizing that inquiry-based instruction resides along a continuum from confirmatory experiments to open inquiry (see Figure 2), guided inquiry typically provides a great balance between achieving the demands of the standards, both content and practices, and engaging the learner in the concepts being studied (Chiappetta and Koballa 2014; Marshall 2013). Students are required, in guided inquiry, to be active participants in the learning process while teachers serve as facilitators. Specifically, students are provided with opportunities to construct their own knowledge about the subject as the teacher provides regulated structure and support to help students get and remain on the path to more accurate understanding.



Four phases of conceptual change

Phase 1: Perturb student thinking

In this phase, you should provide students with situations that reveal pre-existing ideas and concepts about the concept being studied, which for this article is the conservation of energy. Determining students' starting conceptions, or prior knowledge, helps determine the best starting point for the lesson. For instance, when studying the law of conservation of energy, approximately half of middle-level students hold the misconception that "energy can be created," and about one-third believe that "an object has energy within it that is used up as the object moves" (AAAS 2016). Engaging students' prior knowledge helps to bring misconceptions to the forefront so they can be explored further during the lesson.

To begin addressing misconceptions, it is vital that instructional strategies are used to probe student thinking and challenge students' current ideas and understandings. Strategies that can be used to aid in understanding students' prior knowledge include the use of a true/false quiz, KWHL chart, model, drawing, and formative probe (Figure 3), which elicit students' existing ideas while providing teachers with a quick way to assess student understandings. In Figure 3, the best answers are "C" and "D," although the more important thing to note is why "C" and "D" are the best answers and why certain distracters are used (Keeley and Harrington 2010, p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.