Evolving Paradigm Shifts

While watching Heather in “A Private Universe,” I began thinking about how scientific knowledge develops and its parallels to learning.

In science, when studies disagree with our current knowledge base, there is a portion of time where scientists attempt to tweak their understanding or error analysis to help this new observation fit into the current theory. After many studies disagree with the current knowledge base there occurs a Paradigm Shift where scientists must abandon large portions of their preconceptions in favour of this new, more accurate idea. In much the same way, our learning follows a similar path where we are drawn to rationalize new information to fit our existing model. Fostnot (1994) recognizes this process “as the organization of experience with one’s own logical structures or understandings.”

It is apparent that by the end of the lesson that Heather had adjusted her paradigm to fit the new information that she gained during the lesson but remained unclear about some concepts around light coming from the sun. To make this shift complete, more instruction or investigation would be required to address such areas.

In my own experience in teaching biology, it is apparent that students have varied conceptualizations of Evolution and how it occurs. Frequently, as a result of the use of “evolution” as an idiom, students will believe that they acquire new skills and evolve to become a better person. As a result, it is a very important practice to directly address the misuse of the word. Some of the activities which I have found successful in breaking this preconception is to look at historical science around the topic. To start with the absurd ideas such as Lamarck who believed that traits you gain during your life can be passed on to offspring. I will ask the students what their parents are good at, and if they have the same skill. Lamarck would posit that if your mother and father were good at Math, then you must have acquired that skill as a result. I usually take this to absurd levels in order to break this misconception and begin the talk about what evolution and the passing of genes really means. Such as in the case of Heather, some students will still cling to the cognitive paradigm which they had before the lesson, and continue to believe that evolution is individual, short term, and a choice. As a result, each time I teach the course I try to evolve my teaching tactics to better encourage these paradigm shifts.

(Pun in last line intended)



Driver, R., Guesne, E., & Tiberghien, A. (1985). Children’s ideas and the learning of science. Children’s ideas in science, 1-9.

Fosnot, Catherine. Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice. Teachers College Press, 2013 or 2005 version. Chapter 1: Introduction: Aspects of constructivism by Ernst von Glasersfeld or Chapter 2: Constructivism: A Psychological theory of learning or Cobb, Paul. “Where is the mind? Constructivist and sociocultural perspectives on mathematical development.” Educational researcher 23, no. 7 (1994): 13-20.

Thompson, F., Logue, S. (2006). An Exploration of Common Student Misconceptions in Science. International Education Journal. 7(4), 553-559.

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