How Students Can Learn Science on the Basis of “Misconceptions”

Presented By: Andy diSessa, Professor of Cognition and Development, University of California Berkeley
Held on Monday, October 4, 2010

Abstract: What does learning look like? In at least some cases, students simply combine old ideas, which are frequently described as “misconceptions,” to develop scientifically normative ideas.

I will present two case studies of learning. In the first, high school students produce a correct model of thermal equilibration with no direct instruction. In the second, other students chose a different set of elements to combine, and wind up with a non-normative model of thermal equilibration. Because the elements that were combined by students are mostly well-researched in prior work, we are in an excellent position to identify the particular ways in which they are combined. These constitute good candidates for general learning mechanisms.

Implications of these studies for the field of conceptual change are surprising and important. I will also introduce the project from which these studies came, which aims to teach early high school students something of “dynamical systems theory.” Finally (time permitting), I will briefly describe new directions the project is taking concerning a more viable science education for marginalized students.

Bio: Corey Professor of Education Andrea diSessa is a member of the National Academy of Education and a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association. He has a PhD in physics from MIT, and an AB, also in physics, from Princeton. His research centers around conceptual and experiential knowledge in physics, and large-scaled and deep implications of the use of computers in education (“new literacies”). His current work focuses on student ideas concerning “patterns of behavior and control”—aka dynamical systems theory. He was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 1997-98 and 2007-08. Among his writings are the books and monographs: Changing Minds: Computers, Learning and Literacy (2000); Turtle Geometry: The Computer as a Medium for Exploring Mathematics (with H. Abelson, 1981); Toward an Epistemology of Physics(1993); and he co-edited the volume Computers and Exploratory Learning (1995).

Watch Video:

Andy disessa STEM Lecture_640