Section 1 - About Workshop Four:
"A House With No Foundation"
What is the theme of this workshop? The theme of Workshop Four
is "choosing to teach fundamentals."
What do we see in the video? Conversation at a round-table discussion
with elementary, middle, and high school teachers focuses on when abstract
scientific ideas are appropriate to teach. Some teachers believe that abstract
scientific ideas should be taught in high school and that they are too difficult
to teach the younger students. Audrey, an urban middle school teacher, discovers
that the task of teaching abstract concepts may not be impossible after
What happens in the video? Teachers of elementary, middle, and
high school compare their students' ideas about the Particulate Nature of
Matter. Older students seem more confused than younger ones: they do not
believe that there is "nothing" between the particles.
What problem does this session address? Teachers often state that
their students are too young to think about abstract fundamental ideas.
These subjects are often avoided. Older students, however, are required
to build upon the very basic ideas avoided in the early years. If these
ideas are not taught, when will students learn them?
What teaching strategy does this session offer? Teachers learn
to introduce students to modeling things they cannot see. Groups of students
work at activities providing "data" about the phenomenon. The
groups devise models to explain their data and defend these against the
questions of others in the class.
Section 2 "A House With No Foundation"
A. The Goals for Workshop Four
"A House With No Foundation" is for any teacher interested
in discussing the ages at which children can and should learn some of the
fundamental principles of science. The video will challenge traditional
"common wisdom" about this topic and demonstrate how some basic
ideas form the foundation necessary to understand many different sciences.
This video focuses on teachers and students across the K-12 spectrum, providing
insights into science learning in all classrooms.
The video material addresses those who are creating standards at the
local, state, and national level on how we teach science. These standards
will have an impact on what and when students should learn.
In this workshop we want to encourage a dialogue among teachers working
at different grade levels.
Does learning certain fundamental ideas early provide the foundation
for science learning later in school?
What should be the ages of students when teachers first introduce
them to fundamentals? Please explain your reasoning.
B. Diagnostic Questions Used in Workshop Four
Each student interviewed in the videos, regardless of grade level, was
asked a series of questions related to the Particulate Nature of Matter.
The questions were intended to elicit what the students did and did not
understand about the Particulate Theory of Matter, an abstract and difficult
concept for any age. The following represents the questions asked of each
Is air made of particles? Are particles evenly distributed in the atmosphere?
If students could see the air in a flask magnified many times, what
would the air look like? If we then were to remove half the air from the
flask, what would the air look like?
How does the smell of cologne travel from the bottle to the nose?
Ask your class, colleagues, neighbors, and/or friends the following
question: What is air made of? What would it look like if we could see
it? If they mention that air is made of "particles" or similar
terms (such as pieces, atoms, molecules, etc.), ask them what is between
Because of a limited amount of time, we were only able to present the
ideas of a small number of students in each video. When seeing just a few
students, some teachers might conclude that the situations we portray apply
only to a minority of children. In reality, thousands of students' ideas
have been researched and investigated for each of the questions used in
our interviews. The research covers decades of work from all over the world.
We trust that the ideas we present are typical, not rare. However, many
schools and teachers underestimate what and when their students are able
to learn fundamental concepts and may not realize how typical these ideas
Does your school curriculum underestimate or overestimate the students'
capabilities? Please explain your answer.
Section 3 - Exercises
A. Exercise: Responding to Workshop Four
We all agree that there is no point in covering material that students
can't understand. Yet older students are required to build on such ideas.
If the ideas are never taught, when will the students learn them?
What do you think is the earliest appropriate grade for teaching
abstract concepts like the Particulate Nature of Matter? Why?
The sizes of particles seems to be a confusing concept for most
students. How would you initiate a young student into the world of minute,
Devise an activity or an experiment (a "springboard"
for student theory-making) to teach the Particulate Nature of Matter at
a level appropriate for grades K-3.
B. Exercise: Preparing for Workshop Five
You will get the greatest benefit from Workshop Five if you complete
the following exercise. After you've thought about it, ask other teachers,
students, or family members for their responses.
Pre-Workshop Activity for Workshop Five
Without calculating or experimenting, estimate how big a mirror
you will need and how far away the mirror must be in order for you to see
your entire body in it. Use relative terms, such as "as big as my
head" or "ten body lengths," rather than exact quantitative
Section 4 - Educational Strategy
A. Small Group Discussion Work: Use of Posters
Small group discussion offers an interesting teaching and learning strategy
which can be developed by having students make posters. In this summary
sheet, a number of points are made about small-group discussion work in
general and about using posters in the context of small-group work.
Small-group work that involves four or five students discussing their
ideas and understandings of particular issues or phenomena can be very effective
in achieving a range of different aims.
Allows individual students to make their own ideas and thinking explicit.
Makes students aware of each other's ideas (which may differ).
Offers students the opportunity to talk through and develop their ideas.
Enables the teacher to become aware of student ideas and thinking.
Offers an informal working context that can motivate students, making
them more willing to express their views.
As part of group discussions, students can be asked to prepare posters
that summarize the consensus view of their group, which:
Helps to focus the group's attention on the task
The fact that a poster, summarizing ideas, is wanted as a product of
the group work can help to concentrate student minds. Nevertheless, the
production of the poster should not detract from the quality of the discussion;
it may therefore be beneficial to provide paper and pens only towards the
end of the discussion period.
Leads to a permanent record of students' thinking
The poster can be displayed in the classroom acting as a "paper
memory" of students' thinking at that point in the lessons.
Displaying posters in this way is an explicit indication that the teacher
is interested in and values what students have to say.
Provides a focus for reporting back to the rest of the class
Posters from each group can be presented to the rest of the class: given
that the poster is likely to record a group consensus view, there is less
pressure on individuals in reporting to the whole class.
Offers a new teaching strategy for teachers
Organizing small group/poster work
When organizing pupils for group work, consider the following:
If possible, allow students to select their own groups;
Keep groups small-four to five is an optimum size;
Make the purpose and goals of the activity clear to students;
Set a time limit for completion of the work;
If students are expected to report back, tell them ahead of time;
Move furniture into circles to help group interaction;
Have plenty of paper and large felt-tipped pens available;
Use discussions and poster work at any point in a teaching sequence--at
the beginning, to collect students' existing ideas; or at the end, to check
Section 5 - Resources for Workshop Four
Companies, publications, and organizations named in this guide represent
a cross-section of such entities. We do not endorse any companies, publications,
or organizations, nor should any endorsement be inferred from its presence
in this guide. Descriptions of such entities are for reference purposes
only. We have provided this information to help locate materials and information.
A. Materials for the Classroom
IT'S A GAS! Griffin, Margaret and Ruth Griffin. Kids Can Press
Summary report: Aspects of secondary students' understanding of particles.
Brook et al., 1983. The CLIS materials are the result of a United Kingdom
survey of 15-year-old students' understanding of the Particle Theory of
Teaching strategies for developing understanding of science. Needham
et al. 1987. A review of interactive teaching approaches and things to
try in the classroom.
Making sense of secondary science. Driver et al. 1994. A comprehensive
and authoritative review of middle and high school students' alternative
conceptions in all areas of the science curriculum.
To order: CLIS (Children Learning In Science) Publications
CSSME (Center for Studies in Science and Mathematics Education)
University of Leeds
Leeds, UK LS2 9JT
B. Further Reading
Ardley, N. 1991. The Science Book of Air. San Diego: Harcourt
Asimov, I. 1975. Asimov On Chemistry. Garden City, New York: Anchor
Branley, F. 1986. Air is All Around You. New York: Harper Row.
Challand, H.J. 1988. Experience with Chemistry. Chicago: Children's
Driver, R. 1991. Culture clash: children and science. New Scientist
Driver, R. & B. Bell. 1986. Students' thinking and the learning of
science: a constructivist view. School Science Review 67: 240.
Driver, R., E. Guesne and A. Tiberghein eds. 1985. Children's Ideas
in Science. Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Duckworth, E. 1987. The Having of Wonderful Ideas. New York: Teachers
College, Columbia University.
Hawkins, D. 1978. Critical barriers to science learning. Outlook
29 (Autumn) 3-25.
Levenson E. 1994. Teaching Children About Physical Science. Tab
Muthukrishna, N., D. Carmine, B. Grossen., and S. Miller. 1993. Children's
alternative frameworks: should they be directly addressed in science instruction?
Journal of Research in Science Teaching 30(3): 233-248.
Novick, S., and J. Nussbaum. 1978. Junior high school pupils' understanding
of the Particulate Nature of Matter: an interview study. Science Education
Novick, S., and J. Nussbaum. 1981. Pupils' understanding of the Particulate
Nature of Matter: a cross-age study. Science Education 65(2): 197-196.
Osborn, R.J., and M.M. Cosgrove. 1983. Children's conceptions of the
changes of state of water. Journal of Research in Science Teaching
Smith, H. 1983. Amazing Air. New York: Science Club: Lothrop,
Lee and Shepard Books.
Solomon, J. 1983. Thinking in two worlds of knowledge. An International
Seminar of Misconceptions in Science and Mathematics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell
Solomon, J. 1987. Social influences on the construction of pupils' understanding
of science. Studies in Science Education 14: 63-82.
Stavy, R. 1990. Children's conception of changes in the states of matter:
from liquid (or solid) to gas. Journal of Research in Science Teaching
C. Bibliography on the Particulate Nature of Matter
Andersson, B. 1990. Pupil's conceptions of matter and its transformations.
Studies in Science Education 18: 53-85.
Ault, C.R., J.D. Novak, and D.B. Gowin. 1984. Constructing Vee maps for
clinical interviews on molecule concepts. Science Education 68: 441-462.
Ben-Zvi, R., B. Eylon, and J. Silberstein. 1986. Is an atom of copper
malleable? Journal of Chemical Education 63: 64-66.
Brook, A., H. Briggs, and R. Driver. 1984. Aspects of secondary students'
understanding of the Particulate Nature of Matter. Children's Learning
in Science Project, Leeds: Centre for Studies in Science and Mathematics
Education, The University.
de Vos, W. and A.H. Verdonk. 1987. A new road to reaction, part 4: The
substance and its molecules. Journal of Chemical Education 64(8):
Gabel, D.L. 1990. Students' understanding of the Particle Nature of Matter
and its relation to problem solving. Empirical research in mathematics and
science education. Proceedings of the International Seminar, University
of Dortmund, Germany.
Gabel, D.L., K.V. Samuel., and D. Hunn. 1987. Understanding the Particulate
Nature of Matter. Journal of Chemical Education 64(8): 695-697.
Haidar, A.H. and M.R. Abraham. 1991. A comparison of applied and theoretical
knowledge of concepts based on the Particulate Nature of Matter. Journal
of Research in Science Teaching 28(10): 919-938.
Hesse, J.J., III and C.W. Anderson. 1992. Students' conceptions of chemical
change. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 29(3): 277-299.
Hibbard, K.M. and J.D. Novak. 1975. Audio-tutorial elementary school
science instruction as a method for study of children's concept learning:
Particulate Nature of Matter. Science Education 59: 559-570.
Mitchell, H. and S. Kellington. 1982. Learning difficulties associated
with the Particulate Theory of Matter in the Scottish integrated science
courses. European Journal of Science Education 4: 429-440.
Novak, J. and Musonda. 1991. A twelve-year longitudinal study of science
concept learning. American Educational Research Journal 29(1): 117-153.
Novick, S. and J. Nussbaum. 1978. Junior high school pupils' understanding
of the Particulate Nature of Matter: an interview study. Science Education
Novick, S. and J. Nussbaum. 1981. Pupils' understanding of the Particulate
Nature of Matter: A cross-age study. Science Education 65(2): 187-196.
Nussbaum, J. 1985. The Particulate Nature of Matter in the gaseous phase.
In Children's Ideas in Scienc, R. Driver, E. Guesne and A. Tiberghien
eds. Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Pereira, M.P. a nd M.E.M. Pestana. 1991. Pupils' representations of models
of water. International Journal of Science Education 13(3): 313-319.
Scott, P. 1987. The process of conceptual change in science: A case study
of the development of a secondary pupil's ideas relating to matter. In Proceedings
of the Second International Seminar on Misconceptions and Educational Strategies
in Science and Mathematics (Vol. II: 404-419), ed. J.D. Novak. Ithaca,
NY: Department of Education, Cornell University.
Sheperd, D.L. and J.W. Renner. 1982. Student understandings and misunderstandings
of states of matter and density changes. School Science and Mathematics
Stavridou, H. and C. Solomonidou. 1989. Physical phenomena-chemical phenomena:
Do pupils make a distinction? International Journal of Science Education
Stavy, R. 1988. Children's conception of gas. International Journal
of Science Education 10(5): 553-560.
Stavy, R. 1991. Children's ideas about matter. School Science and
Mathematics 91(6): 240-244.
Westbrook, S.L. and E.A. Marek. 1991. A cross-age study of student understanding
of the concept of diffusion. Journal of Research in Science Teaching