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Learning to use scientific concepts

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Abstract

In responding to the research on conceptual change, this article attempts to make two points. First, scientific concepts are not possessed by individuals; rather, they are part of a culture’s resources, which individuals learn to use for their own or for group purposes. Second, particular concepts are most effectively mastered when the learner is deeply engaged in solving a problem for which they function as effective semiotic tools in achieving a solution. On these grounds, it is argued that the mastering of scientific concepts is best achieved through learning to use them in motivated inquiry.

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Notes

  1. Throughout the paper, numbers in square brackets refer to the sequential number of the paragraph in Treagust and Duit’s paper.

  2. Gestures and other forms of non-verbal action, including the making of visual representations, frequently accompany linguistic utterances and, on occasion, substitute for them in interpersonal interaction (Crowder 1996).

  3. See Nelson (2007).

  4. Vygotsky (1981) argued that, in order to understand the current state of some aspect of development, it is necessary to study the history (genesis) of that development.

  5. In this and the following transcript extracts, the following conventions apply: [ ] enclose interpretations and contextual information; < > enclose segments where the transcription is in doubt; * indicates an unintelligible word; CAPS indicate a segment spoken with emphasis; underline indicates segments spoken simultaneously; . a period marks approximately one second of pause.

  6. These sentences are so written as to exemplify the characteristics of the new linguistic register discussed. Halliday (1993) uses the terms “synoptic” and “dynamic” to contrast the language of science with everyday language. Bruner (1986) makes a similar distinction between “paradigmatic” and “narrative” modes of meaning.

  7. It is important to point out that interest does not have to preexist a challenging problem; it is often the problem itself that generates interest.

  8. Although the interviews were not intended to provide an opportunity for learning, Treagust and Duit suggest that learning may well have occurred in the case of the interview with Dana (cf. Scardamalia and Bereiter 1983).

  9. Known as “The Developing Inquiring Communities in Education Project” (DICEP), this project was funded by the Spencer Foundation between 1991 and 2001 (Wells 2001).

  10. The reluctance of many adults to use computers provides a good analogy. Being adept at using pencil and paper for making mathematical calculations of for writing letters or other types of text, they do not feel the need to learn to use a different kind of tool, which is less transparent in use.

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Correspondence to Gordon Wells.

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Wells, G. Learning to use scientific concepts. Cult Stud of Sci Educ 3, 329–350 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-008-9100-6

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