Do they understand what I'm not telling them?
Since students bring to any topic a set of preconceived ideas and in some cases misconceptions, especially when it comes to science, how do teachers help them to recognise when their ideas are wrong? How does a teacher help them to build a deep enough understanding of the topic that the misconceptions will not return? What strategies will work for different learners? Starting with the 'Solids, Liquids and Gases' topic with his two Year 7 classes, the author could see that they held many misconceptions. Previously he had addressed the misconceptions that he thought the students had but did not take time to find out what these misconceptions actually were. He decided to change his approach in the classroom, to become more of a learning guide rather than the fount of all knowledge. In this article he describes how he started the process by first finding out about his students' beliefs, then asking them to share these beliefs with the class. Next he structured class activities to test these beliefs, without telling the students what the current scientific views are, but asking a lot of questions. Throughout the unit the author tried to gauge the impact of his changed approach. Although he could not immediately see that students were becoming better learners, it seemed as though more of them were starting to engage with the ideas and showing a deeper level of understanding. There were differences in outcomes between the two classes, however; one showed higher-than-previously-achieved assessment results, while in the other class misconceptions returned and results were lower. Although the student-centred approach received a mixed reception the author believes it is worth continuing, although it leaves him with a number of important questions still to address. [Author abstract, ed]
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