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What Students Know Constructivism and Preconceptions Constructivism • An epistemology which states that students are not “blank slates,” but actively construct their knowledge from their experiences of the world. John Dewey • Problems should have personal meaning for students. • Thinking arises when a learner confronts a problem. • The mind applies prior knowledge in the struggle for a solution Jean Piaget • Knowledge arises from an interaction between individuals and their environment. • Knowledge is not “out there,” but created and recreated internally from prior and new experiences. • Development interacts with knowledge creation. Lev Vygotsky • Knowledge is socially constructed. • Imitation and modeling are critical in the learning process. • The Zone of Proximal Development moves learners to increased independence. Dave Ausubel • “The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows; ascertain this, and teach him accordingly.” Today’s Constructivism • Knowledge is communicated, but not transmitted intact. • A learner’s prior knowledge determines how the new ideas are interpreted. • Knowledge is constructed as the learner creates links between new and prior knowledge. • Prior mental models create a filter through which new knowledge is interpreted. Mental Models? Or Knowledge in Pieces? Mental Models • The concept that students hold strong mental constructs of ways in which the world works. These constructs are highly resistant to change. • Example: Many students and adults believe that summer is warmer than winter because the earth is closer to the sun, in spite of teaching to the contrary. Knowledge in Pieces • The concept that a learner’s concepts are composed of small bits of knowledge, which are assembled on the spot when asked for an answer. • Example: A student who is asked to predict the outcome of a physics demonstration and sees the prediction did not happen immediately comes up with a new, different explanation. Preconceptions “What I know isn’t so!” • Preconceptions are concepts that students hold prior to instruction, which may or may not reflect current scientific thought. • All people have “misconceptions,” because no one can know all there is to know about science — not even scientists. Sources of Misconceptions • Daily experience: “The moon grows and shrinks.” “The earth is flat.” • Cultural ideas: “The stork brings babies.” “All wild mushrooms are poison.” • Textbook diagrams: “Atoms, molecules, and cells are about the same size.” • Personal theories: “Worms must be baby snakes.” Using Misconceptions • Uncovering misconceptions allows teachers to apply a constructivist learning model. • Once student misconceptions are known, teachers may be able to create lessons that test or confront the misconception. Uncovering Student Ideas • Interviews: Used frequently in research. • Written surveys or tests: Limited by student writing abilities, but often used in conjunction with interviews. • Card sorts: Useful for examining personal categories of knowledge. • KWL charts: For assessing a whole class. Conceptual Change • The Conceptual Change Model: • Student ideas must be made explicit. • Students are presented with discrepant events or ideas that challenge misconceptions. • Students struggle to create a new model, which must be fruitful for the student in order to be accepted. Feeling Stupid • Students will only make their ideas explicit if they feel safe in doing so. • Confronting misconceptions carries the danger of making students feel “stupid” when they find out that what they thought was so isn’t so. • Students who feel stupid may shut down and even refuse to participate. Safe Learning Zone • Teachers can create a “safe learning zone” by: • modeling conceptual change. “Wow, looks like my idea didn’t fit the data. I learned something!” • being willing to say, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
"What Students Know"