[Discussion]: Ohlsson’s (2013) article – Beyond Evidence-based Formation: How normative ideas have constrained conceptual change research

Decades of research in science education – and our own experience of teaching science – suggest that students bring their intuitive or common sense explanations about the natural phenomena to the science classroom.  These intuitive ideas make sense to them in terms of understanding the natural world.  Intriguingly, students’ preconceptions or intuitive conceptions tend to persist even after years of science instruction.  Therefore, changing their intuitive ideas or models in line with accepted scientific models and theories has been an enormously challenging task for science teachers.

Current approaches to science instruction emphasize the importance of understanding students’ intuitive ideas on the part of teachers so that they can carefully design instruction to address and change those intuitive ideas or alternative frameworks – the conceptual change approach.  At the same time, inquiry oriented approaches to science teaching and learning focus on eliciting students’ prior conceptions and engaging them in making predictions –  based on their intuitive ideas – and testing those predictions through hands-on activities and experiments to support the students to re(construct) their ideas and develop a deeper understanding of scientific models.  However, I recently came across argument by Stellan Ohlsson – a psychologist at Chicago University – about conceptual change.  He contends that children – and adults – may not change their ideas, assumptions or stereotypes about the natural or social world based on evidence.  In other words, even if they are confronted with contradictory evidence that doesn’t support their intuitive ideas, people usually tend to hold on to their views and don’t change them.  I am curious to know your response to this argument as it directly relates to the work we have been doing together in our Chantier 7 project.  Over the past three years to develop diagnostic items to assess students’ preconceptions or intuitive ideas related to concepts included in the QEP science curriculum and Progression of Learning (POL) goals for secondary cycle 1 (grades 7 and 8).

Although, I understand that conceptual change is not easy, I also believe that – based on evidence from research – students and experts are able to construct and use scientific models when they have to solve problems.


What are your thoughts on it?  Are there any strategies that you’d like to share with us that you think have worked in your practice in terms of supporting your students to develop a deeper understanding of scientific concepts/models?


Note: You can read the following paper by Ohlsson (2013).  We can also forward the paper to you.

Ohlsson, S. (2013). Beyond evidence-based belief formation: How normative ideas have constrained conceptual change research.  Frontline Learning Research 2 (2013) 70-85.


Blog Author: Dr. Anila Asghar, Associate Professor, DISE, McGill University

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