, Volume 80, Issue 1, pp 163-183

Conceptual change in science and in science education

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There is substantial evidence that traditional instructional methods have not been successful in helping students to ‘restructure’ their commonsense conceptions and learn the conceptual structures of scientific theories. This paper argues that the nature of the changes and the kinds of reasoning required in a major conceptual restructuring of a representation of a domain are fundamentally the same in the discovery and in the learning processes. Understanding conceptual change as it occurs in science and in learning science will require the development of a common cognitive model of conceptual change. The historical construction of an inertial representation of motion is examined and the potential instructional implications of the case are explored.

The preparation of this paper was supported in part by the Office of Naval Research Grant N00014-85-K-0337 to the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the ONR, and no official endorsement should be inferred. I wish to thank Lauren Resnick for her helpful comments and encouragement to pursue this research. I also thank Paul Thagard for introducing me to the technique of concept mapping and Gregory Nowak for his assistance in the preparation of the figures. The paper has benefited from comments by Floris Cohen, Susan Hojnacki, Thomas Kuhn, and Michael Ranney. Any misconceptions are, however, my own.