Conceptual Challenges and Ways to Address Them

After watching the video the concepts within it rang true to me. In my experiences in science, many concepts were taught only once and models, simulations and hands-on experience were limited to what resources were available, which were often slim to none. If models were available, the educators usually stood at the front of the class with the model in front of them as they “taught” us the concept. We did not handle or construct the models. One thing I found interesting was how strongly the students held on to their personal scientific theories. It seems that early experiences learning scientific concepts are fraught with misconceptions that may not be challenged and thus taken as the ultimate truth. I wonder if this is because as children we were not taught to question what we saw in books or what we were taught. We implicitly trusted these sources, including our understanding of 3 dimensional phenomenon which was more often than not, represented in 2-D form (in drawings, graphs, etc.).

A common misconception I have is how our ears “hear” sound. I know it has something to do with vibrations hitting our eardrums, and that the hairs in the ears are called cilia and that the hairs are very delicate and if you damage them you will damage your hearing. Beyond that my lack of full understanding comes to the fore. I remember finding the concept fascinating as I read about it in a science book I had in my home book collection. I read it over and over again as a child. But now that I reflect, I never had a chance in my formal education to revisit the concept; so much of it was lost from my memory. I learned about the parts of the body and some of their rudimentary functions but not in depth. No concepts in biology were hands-on or taught so that we could actually experience the ideas or sensations. No simulations were provided. I do remember watching one video in health class which showed how our digestive system works. I remember it to this day because I could actually “see” inside the body with the use of a mini camera. WOW! powerful stuff.

When I searched for an article about hearing, I found the following information which you can access in the link provided:

So, after reading the information I still had many unanswered questions namely:

What is a sound wave?

How do bones amplify or increase sound? (An analogy might help)

What does it mean when it says hair cells “ride the wave”?

And so on….

Digital technology would allow scientific concepts to “leap from the page” and become more interactive. Simulations, for example, can help students to understand concepts more fully. Being able to take virtual field trips to talk to and learn from scientists around the globe could deepen understanding and allow students to ask important and unanswered questions. Allowing students time to use technology to research a subject area of interest and to use information from a variety of sources including Blogs, videos, simulations, interactive games etc. could also lead to engagement and deeper understandings.

So the question is how can we use digital technology and instructional activities to help children address these conceptions? Kozma (2003) looked at patterns of innovative classroom practices supported by technology, which included the primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary grades. In many of the case studies, science was the subject area.  The case studies found that when students use technology to solve complex, authentic problems that cross disciplinary boundaries, and when educators facilitate this through technology, students are engaged and successful. This constructivist approach promotes knowledge building and moves the students from vessels into which information is imparted into constructors of their own knowledge. The stated impact of the innovation on students was quite broad. The largest number of cases claimed that students acquired ICT skills as a result of the innovation (75%). A large majority of cases claimed students developed positive attitudes toward learning or school (68%), acquired new subject matter knowledge (63%), or acquired collaborative skills (63%) (Kozma, 2003).

Many of these cases from around the world had qualities in common including working collaboratively, using technological tools to research, publish work and create new products. In addition, educators moved more toward facilitation as opposed to being in the “traditional” role of teacher as imparter of knowledge. In fact, Kozma (2003) found that when students used technology to research, solve, design and self- assess they improved their problem solving skills, information management skills, collaboration and communication skills. So, it seems that technology can help us with conceptual understandings, but it also depends on how the educator allows the technology to be used.


How do we hear? (2015, July 20). Retrieved from

Robert B. Kozma (2003) Technology and Classroom Practices, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 36:1, 1-14, DOI: 10.1080/15391523.2003.10782399


  1. Hi Michelle,
    I really liked how you focused on how digital technologies can really bring math and science to life. Students can see simulations, change variables and check the results of those variables changing. I constantly get lost on websites looking at all the cool things it can do and reinforcing concepts of my own. (I am hopeless at physics and I feel a little bit like the guy in the video Anne posted… I just don’t get it, even when shown a direct example. Thank goodness that physics is limited in the 6-8 curriculum.)

    Another interesting thing that came to mind reading your post was that of memory. I am a big fan of Dr. Daniel Levitan’s work on memory and how we can improve our ability to complete tasks and know when on brain is on overload. In your post you spoke about reading science books on hearing as a child. That you found it fascinating and would still like to learn more about it. One of the things that came to my mind this week regarding misconceptions is that our memories are faulty. We may have entirely fraudulent memories, memories that we are sure are one hundred percent accurate. I wonder if this is how some of the misconceptions we all develop are made?
    I just find it fascinating. I have always prided myself on my wonderful memory. (I still think it is above average 🙂 but now I wonder how many of my memories I actually recall accurately?

  2. HI Michelle,

    An insightful observation: “If models were available, the educators usually stood at the front of the class with the model in front of them as they “taught” us the concept. We did not handle or construct the models.” Indeed, Heather’s conceptions about the seasons developed early in life and were not influenced by the text (indeed they were made worse) or by the instructional methods in the class that were used (eg. model at the front). Sound and how we hear is also a topic that is covered (and repeated) in our local curricula. It would be interesting to learn if there are misconceptions reported in either. The link helps us to explore what we know/ do not know. Check out alternative conceptions and misconceptions in these areas and let us know what you find. All the best, Samia

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