In A Private Universe, Heather struggles with her understanding of astronomy because of her lack of instruction in science. She has created her own theories to fill in areas she lacks understanding. As you can see evidenced in the film, she struggles with her own theories, and attempts to draw and map them out, causing her to question the validity of her claims. Confrey (1990) discusses Hawkins critical barriers of learning, claiming that “certain kinds of conceptual difficulties which students experience are indeed intrinsic to the growth of scientific understanding.” Heather’s conceptual difficulties, specifically her understanding about Earth’s orbit, have met a place where her theories will be corrected with the guidance and correct information from her teacher. She is now in a place where she can challenge her understanding, and grow in her scientific understanding.
In my experience with STEM lessons at the primary level, many students approach ‘challenges’ with conceptual difficulties. One example occurred when students were challenged to use Design Thinking to create a Rube Goldberg machine, evidencing their understanding of force and motion. Driver, Guesne, Tiberghien (1985) explain that students have constructed their own ideas and understanding, and it may seem incoherent from the teacher’s point of view. As I watched a group of boys attempting to make their marble roll up a ramp, their ideas persisted even when they were not consistent with the experimental results or my explanation. In our post discussions and reflections of weekly STEM activities, I often find that students have visually seen an idea somewhere, however they lack the conceptual understanding to make that idea work. Teachers also possess similar misconceptions about many concepts, including force and gravity, and I wonder if this is passed on in error. (Burgoon, Heddle, Duran, 2011). Even though many of the student’s ideas are being challenged, they lack the building blocks of scientific concepts to fill in the gaps, which hinders their understanding.
Technology has played a key role in my classroom to help fill the gaps that many students have. If I see a group of students struggling with a concept during a STEM challenge, I can often pull up a BrainPop video that the students can watch together. These short, visual, and entertaining clips help the students through their “highlight and fix” stage (Spencer, Juliani, 2016). It’s integral to correct the misunderstanding while it’s being challenged. Technology is instant, accessible, and engaging. I have found it to be a remarkable addition to the classroom, making learning as authentic as possible.
Burgoon, J.N., Heddle, M.L., Duran, E. (2011). Re-examining the similarities between teacher and student conceptions about physical science. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 22(2), 101-114. DOI: 10.1007/s10972-010-9196-x
Confrey, J. (1990). A review of the research on student conceptions in mathematics, science, and programming. Review of research in education, 16, 3-56. http://ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/login?url=http://www.jstor.org/stable/1167350
Driver, R., Guesne, E., & Tiberghien, A. (1985). Children’s ideas and the learning of science. Children’s ideas in science, 1-9.
Spencer, J. & Juliani, A.J. (2016). LAUNCH: using design thinking to boost creativity and bring out the maker in every student. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.