A Private Universe

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.




  1. Danielle, your example of your students trying to grasp the concept of the Rube Goldberg machines in very relevant. I agree that many students (and teachers) often lack a complete understanding of certain scientific concepts, and yes, it is possible that we inadvertently pass down misinformation to our students, despite our best attempts to steer them in the right direction.

    In regards to using BrainPop as a quick “highlight and fix” the misconception, how do you find the language in terms of accessibility for the students? I work in a French Immersion environment, so language accessibility can sometimes provide cause for confusion when exploring new concepts, particularly ones like STEM where vocabulary is heavily involved. I have used BrainPop before, but from my experience, I always need to assist in their understanding of the concepts, which may end up creating further confusion. Is this similar for you at all? Do you have any strategies in using the videos that might help them overcome this?

    1. Hi Jocelynn. BrainPop uses simple english, with subtitles. There is also an ESL version which my students who recently arrived from Syria really enjoy. It helps with key words/vocabulary. With the videos, I often teach the concept first. I use BrainPop as a platform to help scaffold and reinforce the idea after I have taught it. BrainPop also has online and printable resources to extend student learning. We sometimes watch the short clip twice in the span of a week and discuss what they noticed when they watched the second time. We compare it to “reading for meaning” and that has helped some students in their comprehension. Hope that helps! 🙂

  2. Danielle,
    I have experienced the result of some of these misconceptions when questioning with my grade 8 students. I always like to investigate where students gather these misconceptions and it is very commonly from parents and teachers that they have had before. Many times it is something as simple as the student misunderstanding, or misrememebering, the phrasing a teacher said in class. I wonder what misconceptions I have help spread in such a case…
    I love short, accurate videos like Brainpop or ASAPScience to help reinforce, or dismiss these preconceptions. Yes, they do sometimes raise more questions then they answer but you can always leave some lingering questions for kids to go home and try to answer! I am always nefarious in leaving kids wanting more and I tend to be greeted with answers from the World Wide Web the very next day.

    Thank you for a great post!

    1. I agree with you. I think there’s a lot of pressure on our learners and it is common for misremembering. I have found technology supports this in the classroom when assessing ‘for’ learning. It helps me to see where my students are in their learning, and what I need to adjust or re-teach. The short videos like BrainPop definitely help reinforce and fill some gaps in their learning process. I have yet to try ASAPScience, so thank you. I will look into that platform. Thanks for your reply 🙂

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