Major themes in the articles we have read this semester

Trying to understand the process of conceptual change led researchers to consider multiple perspectives that could affect learning. Overtime it seems that the focus of the research has shifted from concentrating primarily on individual learning processes to considering more how social aspects interact with and influence the development of knowledge in an individual.

In our earlier readings we looked at works by Posner, Strike, Hewson and Gertzog (1981) and Carey (2000). These works compared conceptual change in student learning to historical developments in science and advocated for cognitive conflict as a mechanism for conceptual change. Specific steps of conceptual change process were suggested to consider in developing of instructional materials.

In the Introductory chapter of the International handbook of research on conceptual change (2008), Vosniadou presented a more current thinking about the process of conceptual change, indicating flaws of the approach of comparing students to scientists as well as the overreliance on the use of cognitive conflict for producing conceptual change in students “because it focuses on inappropriate prior knowledge that cannot be used constructively in the learning process.” In addition, major issues of the field were highlighted, such as cohesion vs fragmentation of knowledge, the nature of concepts and kinds of conceptual change, processes and mechanisms of conceptual change as well as the role of sociocultural factors in learning.

In Chapter 1 of the International handbook of research on conceptual change (2008) Vosiniadou provides a perspective on conceptual change that is based on the theoretical assumption that “initial explanations of the physical world in naïve physics are not fragmented observations but form a coherent whole, a framework theory” and the process of conceptual change is characterized by re-categorization of the conceptual knowledge. According to this paper, conceptual change can be better facilitated by the use of “top-down, deliberate and intentional learning mechanisms.”

In Chapter 3 Chi (2008) writes about conceptual change “in order to achieve radical conceptual change, students need to make a category shift by reassigning a concept to another lateral category. We need to confront students at the categorical level.” This description provides an explanation for the knowledge organization. Misconceptions are explained as inappropriately assigned concepts. To correct such misconceptions categorical shift is needed and students need to be aware of it. Slotta and Chi (2006) suggest that conceptual change can be facilitated by “training students in the appropriate ontology prior to physics instruction.” In later work, Chi et. al (2012) conclude that students in school rely “on the same Direct Schema that they have developed for everyday processes to understand and interpret processes that they have to learn in the context of their science classes.” Application of Direct Schema to interpret emergent processes is viewed as a cause for developing misconceptions.

Participatory aspect of learning was discussed in Gorodetsky and Keiny (2002). They wrote, “The participatory approach focuses on the dialogical interaction between “the outer” (the social context) and “the inner” (the individual learner) interacting to construct meaning. ”In addition the authors state that: “these two approaches are different “facets of the complex phenomena of learning…Each facet is not independent of the other. “(p. 150)

The role of sociocultural factors is also discussed in Saljo (1999) where the emphasis in placed on the situated nature of learning and the role of language “we need to consider the situated nature of human conceptual knowledge and that the medium that enabled people to come into contact with concepts is language, or rather communication, and communication is – by definition – first and foremost a collective activity.” (p. 84) The role of language and participatory interaction are at the root of understanding conceptual knowledge and conceptual change.

Looking at some of the articles we’ve read this semester, it seems that the definition of conceptual change became more complex over time. Each of the works added a new perspective to the definition and added new characteristics to consider. Starting from a mechanism of cognitive conflict for conceptual change, we added a mechanism of “reassigning a concept to another lateral category” as well as participatory learning and considering language as critical tool for social interaction necessary for knowledge construction. It is important to reflect on all of these different perspectives when trying to define conceptual change, and recognize that each of them contributes a new point of view that helps to move forward the conversation about learning.


Carey, S. (2000). Science education as conceptual change. Journal of Applied

Developmental Psychology, 21(1), 13-19.

Chi, M. T. H., Roscoe, R. D., Slotta, J. D., Roy, M., & Chase, C. C. (2012) Misconceived

causal explanations for emergent processes. Cognitive Science, 36(1), 1–61.

Gorodetksy, M. & Keiny, S. (2002). Participative learning and conceptual change. (pp.


Posner, G. J., Strike, K. A., Hewson, P. W., & Gertzog, W. A. (1982). Accommodation

of a scientific conception: toward a theory of conceptual change. Science

Education, 66(2), 211–227.

Säljö, R. (1999). Concepts, cognition and discourse: From mental structures to discursive

tools. (pp.81-90).

Slotta, J. D., & Chi, M. T. H. (2006). Helping students understand challenging topics in

science through ontology training. Cognition and Instruction, 24(2), 261–289.

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