Unpacking Personal Theories

Heather’s personal theories of what causes the change in seasons varied from the accepted scientific understanding. I’m not sure where her misconceptions stems from but it was clear to see that her beliefs were deep-rooted. Despite having been present in class and having access to learning material, her personal theory on the topic created a block to being able to fully adopt a new understanding.

What became clear to me during the video was the need for the Heather and her teacher to confront their own personal theories. It was interesting to hear the teacher comment, “You assume that they (students) know certain things.” Shapiro (1988), advocates that teachers should understand our own assumptions and consider what impact it may be having on the learning process. Equally important is students being encouraged to share beliefs. Having students unpacked their personal theories allows teachers insight into student thinking and an opportunity to explore ways to introduce new ideas and/or challenge misconceptions.

Conceptual challenges are not just related to what students are learning, but also from how teachers are teaching. In my own profession practice, I have encountered challenges with parents and students in the area of mathematics. I have been present during many interesting debates concerning student achievement in the area of mathematics. Parents and many teachers I know hold firm to the idea that success in mathematics is best achieved through the practice of drills as a way to enhance speed and accuracy. Shapiro (1988), identifies that this approach requires that students not delve into the complexity but rather accept what is being taught. At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that student should explore different ways to solve math problems instead of using a single algorithm. Shapiro (1988), identifies that this type of approach factors into account the learners’ individual ideas, feeling about the learning.

In support of a more open and exploratory approach to math, a study conducted by Ng and Sinclair (2015), investigated grade 1/2 and 2/3 learning in a dynamic math environment. The learning environment emphasized quality communication as a basis for learning. Whole class dialogue exploring ideas and learning were central to the study. It also focused on the use of digital tools to aid in student understanding symmetry. The results documented a shift in student thinking toward a deeper understanding of symmetry. Although the results were based on only three lessons, the notion that dynamic environments for learning can be enhanced with quality dialogue and use of manipulatives is worth consideration.


Shapiro, B. L. (1988). What children bring to light: Towards understanding what the primary school science learner is trying to do. Developments and dilemmas in science education, 96-120. Available in the course readings library.

Ng, O., & Sinclair, N. (2015). Young children reasoning about symmetry in a dynamic geometry environment. Zdm, 47(3), 421-434. doi:10.1007/s11858-014-0660-5

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