, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 381-390

Cognitive Illusions as Hindrances to Learning Complex Environmental Issues

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Abstract

Teaching and learning complex issues is often confounded by the presence of simplistic mental models that are held by students. These simplistic models can be described as “cognitive illusions” which hinder the development of correct understanding of such issues in science. Many current environmental issues, such as ozone depletion, are quite complex, and our understanding of the causal forces driving them is continually undergoing revision. Ozone depletion was chosen as such an issue to try to answer two questions. First, can a short-term intervention significantly improve pre-service elementary teachers' understanding of this topic? Second, can complex issues be dealt with successfully through such a short-term intervention? Survey results showed that understanding of this issue can be significantly improved through a short-term intervention using a mix of constructivist approaches. But, the actual scores are still below what is acceptable. Second, the study suggests that short-term interventions can produce some degree of knowledge gains, especially at the factual level, but cognitive illusions continue to be very resistant to change.