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Conceptual Development in Science

Conceptual Change Literature Review

As students join schools, the teachers are significantly aware of the alternative conceptions that differ from the accepted notions by scientists among the students. The current thinking on these conceptions holds that students consider the notions authentic and are resistant to change. According to Wandersee, Mintzes, & Novak has provided an overview of some of the claims that students hold related to the alternative conceptions in science. Thus, the study will evaluate and present from several literature studies some of these alternative conceptions while presenting their origins. The study will explore the conceptual change theories, as well as the importance of teachers been aware of the alternative conceptions. If the teachers recognize the existence, of the conceptions, they develop better teaching approaches and methods to ensure the students understand and differentiate between the accepted conceptions by scientists and the alternative conceptions by students (Skamp & Preston, 2014).

Some of the current thinking on alternate conceptions includes. When force is realistic to an object, the motion is produced in the force direction.
When an object is under constant force influence, the objects mainly move with the constant velocity(Wandersee, Mintzes, & Novak, 1994). An objects velocity is proportional to the magnitude of the applied force. In space, gravity does not exist. Gravity is functional only when objects are falling(Wandersee, Mintzes, & Novak, 1994). The above-named conceptions are dominant alternate notions among students. The notions are widely accepted by students, which leads to the need for identifying the origin of the notions.

As students begin learning formal science, they have a foundation of other alternative conceptions from other fields regarding events and objects. For instance, the fields of environmental science, chemistry, biology, physics, and earth hold different conceptions on diverse objects and events. Thus, as the students begin the formal science, the alternative conceptions are already founded in their minds (Wandersee, Mintzes, & Novak, 1994). The alternate conceptions are also founded by the former existing explanations of natural phenomena’s from philosophers and scientists (Wandersee, Mintzes, & Novak, 1994).

Determining the actual origin of the alternate conceptions is challenging. The alternate conceptions may derive from miseducation of learners in other fields, ages or backgrounds. It also may derive from miscommunications, misunderstanding and misapplications of physical principals. Thus, when either of the above factors occurs when teaching about scientific conceptions, the students are bound to form alternate scientific conceptions and embrace their authenticity widely. A misunderstanding occurs, where students occasionally form different conclusions from the same demonstrations due to diverse observations and information from follow-ups. For instance, (Taylor & Dana, 2003) show how students interpret different experiments with different conclusions. The conclusions lead to the alternate conceptions in science among students leading to inappropriate conclusions, logical fallacies and data that is not accepted.

The student’s preconceptions do not always present alternate conceptions. That is; the students challenges in explaining and interpreting, graphs, experiments and other data correctly also presents the possibility of developed conceptions. Thus, these are not alternate conceptions but the lack of student’s accurate interpretation of the data provided. For instance, physics holds that for a motion to occur, force must be applied. The first law of Newton substitutes it. Force is presented as Newton’s second law replaces action. The third law of Newton substitutes force as war (Hestenes, 2006). Thus, in such a situation, the alternative conceptions develop as students attempt to understand such ideas in an easier way. In the process conceptions that are inconsistent with the scientific notions derive leading to the alternate conceptions. Thus, the origin of alternate conceptions among science students cannot be fully pinpointed.

Conceptual change refers to the process where an ideas former state or understanding is extinct. The conceptual change theory holds that when new alternate conceptions are developed, they weaken and destroy the existing memory of the conception. However, as scientists have presented forgetting a learned idea is challenging. Thus, actual effort must be for eradicating the inaccurate conception (Chi, Slotta, & Leeuw, 1994). To understand the alternate conceptions is important to the teachers as they develop ways to help the students forget about the inaccurate notion. The teachers must understand that the memories will not fade away. Thus, the teachers ought to develop approaches that will ensure the existing memories leading the alternate conceptions are replaced with new conceptions. More importantly, teachers would advance teaching approaches that assist the students in identifying the faults in their conceptions by demonstrating to them how their conceptions fit into the scientific framework (Wandersee, Mintzes, & Novak, 1994).

Teachers ought to understand the alternate conceptions of their students since the conceptions affect the manner students learn and accept scientific notions they are taught. The teaching approaches the teachers embrace supports the meaningful understanding of scientific conceptions (Taylor & Francis Group, 2003). The conceptual change, concept exchange model, holds that the alternate conception eliminates the old conception. That is; the alternative conception that has been developed will reappear despite the banishment it faces in the science understanding. Thus, several individuals will retain the alternate conception as the authentic science accepted notion. Thus, the teachers must understand the conceptions of students on various issues by pressing them to explain their notions of understanding where they go wrong and how they can be verified (Skamp & Preston, 2014).

Promoting Conceptual Change

Alternate Conception: Heat and Temperature Is the Same Thing

The alternate conceptions of heat and temperature derive from the way the word heat. That is; it is used as both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it is considered as an object while as a verb it is considered as a way of heating an object. Thus, when students refer to heat as the energy in an object or transferring energy between objects in different temperatures. Thus, to ensure that the alternate conceptions of heat and temperature are same, the teachers ought to use language terms well to ensure that the students refer to heat appropriately (UK Aid, 2012). To ensure the students understand, the teachers must first identify their alternate conceptions.

To help the replace the alternative conceptions, the teachers ought to challenge their conceptions to ensure they embrace new ideas and conceptions that relate to the accepted view of the concept. For instance, the teacher may conduct experiments for measuring the iced water temperature with a candle and ask the students to demonstrate where the heat has gone (Taylor & Francis Group, 2003). Such a challenge will show the teacher the alternate conceptions of the students. Consequently, the teacher will now have a way to show them how their conceptions are misinformed in the scientific view.

To foster an alternative conception replacement regarding heat and temperature, the teacher ought to use experiments and questions, interactive demonstrations and other hypothetical situations to support the actual interpretation and overview of the issue. Teaching students through plainly telling them what is and what is not does not work. The students ought to be taught and shown how to resolve the discrepancies by themselves (Hestenes, 2006). The process will work out better and lead to more benefits and replacement of alternative conceptions among other factors. To eliminate the alternate conception that heat and temperature are similar, the teacher will plan an explanation, and through demonstrations show them the ideas they need to learn. Their teaching approaches either may be analogical or models to show that heat and temperature are not similar. The teaching approaches will depend on the issues the students present as the teachers will plan to address these issues. The teacher could also ask the students to work in pairs through making a map or list regarding what they know concerning a topic. The information will inform the teacher regarding their alternate misconceptions and arrange on how to approach them to help the students understand the topic and eliminate the alternate conceptions.

Earth and Space Sciences

Alternate conception: Greenhouse Effect is the same as Global Warming

Students as presented by (Shapardson, Niyogi, Choi, & Charusombat, 2014), describe global warming and climate change interrelatedly instead of as individual studies. Consequently, they define both as similar subjects. The conceptions they hold regarding greenhouse effect and global warming derive from the cause of each factor, the environmental impacts they cause and the resolutions attained to handle the cases (Cimer, Cimer, & Ursavas, 2011). Through an educational intervention, the conception perceived stipulated that students tend to relate greenhouse as the cause of global warming.

However, greenhouse and global warming as different subjects result in climate change. Thus, the origin of this alternate conception cannot be identified but through the teachers understanding the alternate conception, they understand where the confusion lies, and consequently can assist the students to challenge their ideas cognitively (Lee, Lester, Ma, Lambert, & Jean-Baptiste, 2007). That is; the students confuse the gasses that cause the greenhouse effect as some stipulated it was inadequate of gasses such as oxygen. However, once the instructor understands this, he or she can make the students understand that natural gasses cause the greenhouse effect, which in turn leads to climate change (Chi, Slotta, & Leeuw, 1994).

To deal with the alternate conceptions of earth space, the instructors must first find out what these conceptions are. Challenging an idea is not completely effective in changing the ideas of a student regarding an issue. However, through cognitive conflicts, the students can challenge their ideas and search for the new and accepted notion regarding the topic. Once they identify the alternate conceptions, the students hold regarding the earth. They will have a better opportunity of using instructional approaches that challenge the ideas of the students. Consequently, the targets of the teachers will be attained as students learn the faults in their ideas and conceptions. The teachers ought to ensure that students relate global warming and greenhouse effect in the right manner (Lee, Lester, Ma, Lambert, & Jean-Baptiste, 2007).

Global warming causes the earth to heat up when the climate of the earth changes. On the other hand, the greenhouse effect causes the climate of the earth to change due to the natural process of the atmosphere and sunlight (Lee, Lester, Ma, Lambert, & Jean-Baptiste, 2007). Thus, the two may be related, but they are not the same. To eliminate the alternate conception of these among the students, the teachers may provide them with questionnaires asking for differences, causes and resolutions of the factors (Henriques, 2000). More importantly, through asking their relationship, which will provide an outline on how the teachers should instruct the students to eliminate the misconceptions.


Chi, T. H., Slotta, D. J., & Leeuw, D. N. (1994). From things to processes: A theory of conceptual change for learning science concepts. Learning and Instruction. Elsevier, 27-43.

Cimer, O. S., Cimer, A., & Ursavas, N. (2011). Student teachers’ conceptions about global warming and changes in their conceptions during pre-service education: A cross sectional study. Educational Research and Review, 592-597.

Henriques, L. (2000, 4 29). Children’s Misconceptions about Weather: A Review of the Literature. Retrieved from National Association of Research in Science Teaching, New Orleans:

Hestenes, D. (2006). Notes for modelling theory of science cognition and instruction, proceedings of the 2006 GIREP conference. Modelling in Physics and Physics Educations. Modelling Theory PDF, 1-1.

Lee, O., Lester, T. B., Ma, L., Lambert, J., & Jean-Baptiste, M. (2007). Conceptions of the Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming among Elementary Students from Diverse Language and Cultures. Journal of Geoscience Education, 117- 125.

Shapardson, P. D., Niyogi, D., Choi, S., & Charusombat, U. (2014). Student conceptions about global warming and climate change., 1-43.

Skamp, K., & Preston, C. (2014). Teaching Primary Science Constructively PDF. New York: Cengage Learning.

Taylor & Francis Group. (2003). Conceptual Change: A Powerful Framework for Improving Scienve Teaching and Learning. International Journal of Science Education, 671-688.

Taylor, J. A., & Dana, T. M. (2003). An Illustration of the Complex Nature of Subject Matter Knowledge: A Case Study of Secondary School Physics Teachers’ Evaluation of Scientific Evidence. Journal of Physics Teacher Education Online, 3-13.

UK Aid. (2012). Alternative conceptions: Heat and Temparature. Teacher education through school-based support in India. Tess India: Elementary Science, 1-18. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/Hp/Downloads/Documents/ES12_AIE_Final.pdf

Wandersee, J. H., Mintzes, J. J., & Novak, J. D. (1994). Research on Alternative Conceptions in Science. In D. Gabel, In Handbook of Research on Science Teaching and Learning (pp. 177-210). New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan.