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DCS 201
Lecture Outline
1. Introduction
2. Common Alternative Conceptions
3. Sources of alternative conceptions
4. Why teachers need to know childrens
alternative conceptions?
5. Investigating childrens conceptions
6. Intervention strategies for conceptual change
1. Introduction
Children come to science classes with prior ideas
Formed through their interaction with the world
around them.
Arise from their personal observations and
interpretations of everyday natural and physical
Communicated to them through the media and
talking with other people.
Some of which may be correct in that they
are compatible with scientists conceptions,
while others may be misconceptions.
1. Introduction
These misconceptions have also been referred to
as childrens science ideas, alternative
conceptions, or naive theories and may interfere
with their learning about various concepts in
1. Introduction
2. Common Alternative Conceptions
A number of research studies have identified
common alternative conceptions in science
held by children. Some examples are given
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Food is anything we eat. Food gives energy to the
organism during
respiration, but not
everything we eat supplies
energy (e.g. water).
Food comprises seven
groups, viz; carbohydrates,
fats, proteins, water, fibre,
vitamins, and minerals.
Only the first three
nutrients supply energy in
respiration, and thus can
biologically be called food.
2.1 Food and Energy
Alternative conception Scientific conception
The above seven groups
are all food as they are
needed for living, growing,
building our bodies and for
Nutrients like vitamins,
fibre and minerals are
necessary for maintaining
health but these do not
make them to be food,
which uniquely supplies
energy during respiration.
2.1 Food and Energy
2.2 Photosynthesis and Respiration
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Photosynthesis stops when
respiration begins, or vice
Respiration occurs
continuously when the
organism is alive. In
plants, photosynthesis
occurs only when there is
light energy.
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Respiration is breathing. Respiration occurs at the
cellular level and involves
the oxidation of food to
release energy. This is
often confused with
breathing which is gaseous
exchange and is an energy
consuming process.
2.2 Photosynthesis and Respiration
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Foods for plants comprise
substances like water, soil,
sunlight, fertilizers, carbon
dioxide, oxygen and sugar.
Oxidation of food releases
energy during respiration.
Thus, only glucose or its
polymeric form, starch, is
food for plants.
2.2 Photosynthesis and Respiration
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Growing plants
increase in weight due
to absorption of water
and mineral salts.
Photosynthesis is a unique
process by which plants make
food (sugar) from carbon
dioxide and water. This sugar
is then converted into other
compounds such as starch and
stored in plant structures (e.g.
leaves, stems). This occurs as
sugar can be inter-converted
with proteins and fats.
2.2 Photosynthesis and Respiration
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Keeping plants indoors at
night is unhealthy due to
release of carbon dioxide
during respiration.
The carbon dioxide
released is very minimal
and poses no detriment to
2.2 Photosynthesis and Respiration
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Confusion between
pollination and
fertilization in plants.
Pollination is simply the transfer
of pollen grains while fertilization
is the fusion of gametes.
Pollination has to occur before
fertilization can take place. From
the pollen grain, which lands on
the stigma of the flower, a pollen
tube emerges and grows down-
wards into the flower carrying
the male gametes.
2.3 Pollination and Fertilization
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Burning uses up the
materials. Some of the
materials magically
In burning, the materials
are converted into gases,
ash or other residues.
2.4 Conservation of Matter
Alternative conception Scientific conception
A substance (e.g. sugar)
that dissolves in liquid (e.g.
water) disappears as if by
A substance that dissolves
in liquid mixes between the
particles of liquid.
2.5 Dissolving
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Water condensing outside
a jug containing ice water
comes through the sides of
the jug.
The moisture in the air
condenses on the cold
surface of the jug, forming
water droplets.
2.6 Condensation
Alternative conception Scientific conception
The water on wet dishes is
absorbed into the dishes.
The water evaporates into
the air and is stored as
water vapour.
2.7 Evaporation
Alternative conception Scientific conception
The bubbles in a container
of water which has been
boiling for some time (or till
almost dry) contain air.
The bubbles in a container
of water has been boiling
for some time (or till almost
dry) contain water vapour
or steam.
2.8 Boiling
Alternative conception Scientific conception
When water freezes, there
is a decrease in
When water freezes, there
is no change in
2.9 Freezing
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Air can be compressed
because it has no definite
Air can be compressed
because there are lots of
empty spaces and negli-
gible forces of attraction
between particles in air.
2.10 Matter
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Metals will sink,
plastics will float.
Some metals will float on water.
Even dense metals such as
lead can be made to float on
water, if the shape is right.
Plastics have a range of
density, some are denser than
water and will sink in water,
depending on the shape. Some
plastics have a low density and
will float on water.
2.11 Materials
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Heavier objects fall faster
than light objects.
Assuming negligible air
resistance, heavier objects
will fall at the same rate as
lighter ones.
2.12 Forces
Alternative conception Scientific conception
Only bright and shiny
things reflect light; dull,
dark or rough surfaces do
not reflect light.
All objects (even dull, dark
or rough ones) reflect light
into our eyes so that we
can see them.
2.13 Light & Sight
Alternative conception Scientific conception
The steeper an inclined
plane, the more kinetic
energy the car has when it
reaches the bottom of the
The kinetic energy that the
car has is dependent only
on the height of the
inclined plane (assuming
negligible frictional force).
2.14 Energy
Alternative conception Scientific conception
A man who uses an
inclined plane to move a
load onto the back of a
lorry is using less energy
than one who lifts the same
load directly onto the lorry.
Both men are using the
same amount of energy.
The one who uses an
inclined plane exerts a
smaller force but has to
move the load over a
greater distance than the
one who lifts the load
directly onto the lorry.
2.14 Energy
Sources of childrens alternative
Children develop ideas and beliefs about the
natural world through their daily life
experiences, e.g. sensual experience, language
experience, cultural background, peer group,
mass media as well as formal instruction.

Sources of childrens alternative
These everyday experiences may conflict with
scientific thinking, e.g. young children have difficulty
in accepting that a chair is exerting an upward push on
the person sitting on it.
Children can also develop alternative conceptions
during formal lessons, e.g. the different meanings of
common words in different subjects and in everyday
use can cause confusion. Children were confused
between the nucleus of an atom and the nucleus of a

Sources of childrens alternative
Teachers can also be sources of alternative
conceptions. e.g. teachers use imprecise
terminology and present concepts in too few
Textbooks can also contain errors and
misleading or conflicting illustrations and

Why teachers need to know pupils
alternative conceptions
Children conceptions are critical to subsequent learning in
formal lessons.

Children may look at the new learning material through the
lenses of their pre-instructional conceptions and may find it

Teachers need to know their students alternative
conceptions in order to help students see the limitations of
these conceptions in favour of the accepted science concepts.

A variety of methods have been used to
investigate childrens understanding of
(A) Concept mapping
(B) Interview
(C) Survey/Test
(D) Explore & Predict
(E) Others

Investigating pupils conceptions
Concept mapping is a useful technique for
finding out students conceptual structures and
understanding of the interrelationship among
individual concepts.
(A) Concept mapping
First, identify the important concepts for the topic in mind
(e.g. photosynthesis).

Next, ask students to write these concept labels (e.g. carbon
dioxide, water, chlorophyll, oxygen, sugar, sunlight, etc.) on
pieces of paper or cards.

The students then draw concept maps by using linking words
to form propositions between these concepts.

(A) Concept mapping

sunlight & chlorophyll
uses produces
oxygen & sugar carbon dioxide &

(A) Concept mapping
Misconceptions will show up as incorrect
propositions, missing or faulty links between key
ideas relating two or more concepts,
inappropriate branching, and incorrect examples,
(B) Interview-about-instances
E.g. show a cockroach and a spider, among
other instances, to assess students concept of an

Ask students if the situation illustrated is an

Then ask them to give their reasons for their

(B) Interview-about-instances
In interview-about-events, use pictures or
practical demonstrations of familiar, everyday
situations to which the concept (e.g.
evaporation) may be applied.

Ask students to give some description,
explanation, or prediction, about the
phenomenon of interest.

(B) Interview
Avoid using leading questions, rejecting
wrong answers or praising right

In your role as interviewer, you are
primarily interested in eliciting students

(B) Interview
Effective probing of students real ideas
requires a non-judgmental approach.

The questions need to be neutral rather
than leading, yet penetrating rather than

E.g. What has happened to the water

(B) Interview
Probe students understanding more
deeply by following up on their
responses, e.g. What do you mean by
that? and Why do you say that?.

Use a mixture of closed and open

(C) Survey Test
1. True/False Items

2. Multiple choice items

3. Two tier multiple choice items

4. Open-ended questions

True/false statements can be used where students have
to agree or disagree with the statements and explain
their reasoning. E.g.
1. The sky is blue because air is blue.
2. Gravity in space is zero.
3. A lemon-battery can light a flash-light bulb.
4. Gases always expand to fill their containers.
5. Iron and steel are the only strongly magnetic materials.
6. The north magnetic pole of the earth is in the north.
(C1) True/false items
For MCQ items, can include distractors that consist of
students alternative ideas, along with the
scientifically-correct answer.
When a jug boils there are large bubbles in the water.
What are the bubbles made of?
(1) air (2) steam
(3) heat (4) oxygen or hydrogen

(C2) MCQ
For MCQ items, an additional questions can be
included for students to provide explanations for
their choices and to indicate the thinking behind
their answers and why those answers were
(C3) Two tier MCQ
E.g. A two-tier diagnostic instrument for
identifying students ideas about
photosynthesis & respiration in plants.
(C3) Two tier MCQ
(C3) Two tier MCQ
Which gas is taken by green plants in large amounts when there is no
light energy at all?
(1) carbon dioxide gas (2) oxygen gas.
The reason for my answer is because:
(a) This gas is used in photosynthesis which occurs in green plants all
the time.
(b) This gas is used in photosynthesis which occurs in green plants
when there is no light energy at all.
(c) This gas is used in respiration which only occurs in green plants
when there is no light energy to photosynthesize.
(d) This gas is used in respiration which takes place continuously in
green plants.
(e) Other (please specify):
Example of one pair of item
Item 7
Felix the cat and Bill are in a completely dark room. There is no light in the room.
Felix the cat would:
A. not be able to see at all.
B. just be able to see the box.
C. see the box quite clearly.
The reason I chose my answer is because:
1. Light has to be reflected from the book to the cats eyes.
2. Cats can see in the dark.
3. The cat is able to see objects by looking at them.
4. The cat will be able to see in the dark after adjusting its eyes to
the darkness.

A. not be able to see at all.
B. just be able to see the box.
C. see the box quite clearly.
1. Light has to be reflected from the book to the cats eyes.
2. Cats can see in the dark.
3. The cat is able to see objects by looking at them.
4. The cat will be able to see in the dark after adjusting its eyes to
the darkness.
This item is just like item 7. The room is still completely dark.
Bill would:
The reason I chose my answer is because:
Item 8

Participants: 1149 students in Years 7 (n=415), 8
(n=348), and 9 (n=386) from Singapore

Students alternative conceptions
- Stable alternative conceptions . Q7 & Q8 (C4)
Cat/boy can see the object (clearly) after adjusting their
eyes to the darkness (Y7: 21%, Y8: 30%, Y9: 26%)

- Unstable alternative conceptions . Q7 (C2)
Cats see the object very clearly in complete darkness
(Y7: 17%, Y8: 30%, Y9: 26%)

The strength of these two- tier diagnostic
The items were developed using core concepts
and students alternative conceptions in
different situations
The distractors have the same status of
alternative conceptions.
The distractors provide opportunities students
to discuss their choices.
Items enable beginning teachers to understand
students possible alternative conceptions to
prepare their teaching with embedded formative
Give the students a situation, ask them to predict what
will happen when something is done to the situation,
and to justify their prediction.

Next, they observe what happens.

Then ask them to describe and explain what
actually happened, and to explain any discrepancy
between prediction and observation.
(D) Explore and Predict
(D) Explore and Predict
Ask them to write down their responses
to What would happen if? and
POE requires students to apply their
knowledge to reason out an answer.
In this process, the students
understanding of the concepts involved
may be revealed.
(D) Explore and Predict
E.g. To pose students who had been taught the conservation of
mass: They were required to predict the relative weight (less,
same, more) of a glass jar and its contents, after a piece of
rotting liver was placed in the jar for about two weeks. The
tight-fitted lid of the jar was sealed with wax to ensure that the
jar was air-tight.

The most common prediction and reason given was that the
weight of the jar would be less as rotting caused some of the
liver to disappear. Some students thought the gases had no
6. Intervention Strategies

Posner, et als (1982) Conceptual Change Model (CCM):
Learners tend only to accept new concepts if they find
(1) dissatisfaction with the current alternative conception
(2) the new concepts intelligible (can be understood)
(3) the new concepts plausible (able to solve current problem)
(4) the new concepts fruitful (able to solve future problems in a different
6. Intervention Strategies

Suggested approaches in adopting CCM:
(A) Eliciting students ideas
(B) Using cognitive conflict
(C) Predict-Observe-Explain-Expand
(D) Encouraging students to hypothesize, explain, and
apply their ideas to new situations
(E) Discussions
Misconceptions about movement and
Forces are to do with living things only (e.g. Only
people can apply force but gravity, friction are not
forces. This is not true!)
Constant motion requires constant force (Not true! It
should be constant motion resulting from no force)
The amount of force is proportional to the amount of
force (faster-moving objects are thought to have
greater force, whereas the scientific ideas, an object
like a spacecraft can be moving very fast even with
no force on it.)
Misconceptions on movement and
If an object is not moving, there is no force
acting on it and if a body is moving, there is a
force acting on it in the direction of motion.
(Not true! There is no forward force on a
rolling object-friction will act in a direction
opposite to the motion. A stationary person
standing is subjected to two forces.)
Possible strategies
Provide tactile experience of forces acting
on floating objects (e.g. Upthrust from
Use of demonstration. Flying paper
spinner, paper aeroplane
Chin, C. (2004). Pupils ideas and conceptual
change in science in Teaching Primary Science,
Yap K.C. et al. (Ed.). Pearson Education South
Asia Pte Ltd., Singapore: Pp 181-186
Posner, G. J., Strike, K. A., Hewson, P. W., and
Gertzog, W. A. (1982) Accommodation of a
scientific conception: Toward a theory of
conceptual change. Science Education, 66, 211