Conceptual Change Theory: How to Teach Science

January 9, 2019

Certain science-related school subjects require a lot of cognitive effort. This is mainly due to the fact that the students need to understand the content deeply, something that current educational methodologies don’t help the students achieve. In this regard, the theory of conceptual change aims to help teachers teach science better.

Students have intuitive theories of the world. Children don’t arrive at school as empty vessels. Before they receive information that describes the world around them, they have already theorized their own explanations.

More often than not, their intuitive theories are incorrect and condition the newly learned material. It’s important that teachers take this into account when it comes to educating children.

Stages of the conceptual change theory

In this article, we’ll demonstrate how to develop a deep understanding in science. For this, we must understand the three stages of the conceptual change theory:

  • Recognition of an anomaly.
  • Building of a new model.
  • Use of the new model.
Conceptual change theory has three different phases

Recognition of an anomaly

This is the first step to help students develop a deep comprehension of a concept. The teacher‘s job is to break apart the students’ intuitive theories. The students must abandon their old ideas and discover that they were wrong.

If the students don’t let go of their intuitive theories, their learning process will be affected and they’ll reject the new information. On many occasions, this stems from the superficial learning of science that won’t make the student feel obligated to leave their intuitive theory behind.

Direct experimentation is one way to help students realize their intuitive theory is incorrect with their own senses. Thus, it allows them to recognize the anomaly.

Teachers can also help students realize they were wrong by attacking erroneous ideas in a healthy and respectful dialogue. This method is very useful and can help the students see facts in a critical way.

Building of a new model

Once the students’ intuitive theory is broken apart, the next step is to give them a new explanation. One essential aspect of this step is that they have to build the new model themselves.

If a teacher simply presents the new concept to the class, it would be difficult for the students to really understand it. They’ll most likely develop superficial learning based on memorization.

Constructivist paradigms suggest that the student is the one who needs to build their knowledge. Thus, the teachers’ role is to guide students while they explore different possibilities. This is a complex process, but it yields amazing results.

It’s more complicated in a classroom because it means that the teacher must apply this to many students at one time. A great way to do this is through debates.

The students themselves create their own models to refute and argue their points of view. In this case, the teacher’s role is to prepare the material and necessary resources for the debate.

This step is the most difficult one in the conceptual change theory since it’s where students start to really understand topics.

The conceptual change theory.

Use of the new model

It wouldn’t make much sense to break apart erroneous views if you don’t build a model to use in future problems. Therefore, the last step of the process is to teach students to use their theory. For this, students must do exercises where they can practice this new model. On the other hand, it’s essential to integrate this new model with previous knowledge.

The conceptual change theory is a valid teaching method that yields incredible results. If we want to make sure that students really understand the material and know how to apply it in a critical and constructive way, we should use this type of educational tool in the classroom.