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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8
learning about internal body organs and their function; they won’t deepen their understanding of materials without learning about a variety of materials and their characteristics. The claim being advanced by conceptual change researchers, however, is that, although such new knowledge may be necessary for conceptual change, it is not sufficient to produce it (Carey, 1991; Inagaki and Hatano, 2002).
Some of the strongest evidence for this claim comes from the repeated failures of both traditional science instruction and simple discovery learning to produce understanding of scientific ideas for large numbers of students. Such failures have been found in domain after domain, such as photosynthesis (Roth, 1984), atomic-molecular theories of matter (Lee et al., 1993), and weight and density (Smith et al., 1997). Traditional instruction exploits simple knowledge-telling strategies of teaching and conveys science as a rather flat “rhetoric of conclusions” (Schwab, 1962). Simple discovery approaches have students do experiments or make observations with the naïve hope that the scientists’ conclusion will emerge unproblematically from the data (Roth, 1990, 2002). Given that both these didactic and discovery teaching approaches are certainly introducing students to a wealth of new knowledge and experiences, these findings underscore that being exposed to new information is not the same as remembering or understanding it. Indeed, in one study of a special cognitively impaired population with Williams Syndrome (Johnson and Carey, 1998), it appeared that simple knowledge accumulation was possible for this group in the area of biology but not the more revolutionary cases of conceptual change, which may require much deeper causal explanatory understandings to occur.
Metacognitively Guided Learning
Children’s metacognitive abilities may be critical to many cases of fundamental conceptual change (Beeth, 1998; Case, 1997; Inagaki and Hatano, 2002). Metacognition or “thought about thought” refers to a broad range of processes, including monitoring, detecting incongruities or anomalies, self-correcting, planning and selecting goals, and even reflecting on the structure of one’s knowledge and thinking (Gelman and Lucariello, 1992). Even preschool children have some metacognitive abilities, but major expansions in these abilities during the elementary school years may create especially powerful support for more dramatic forms of conceptual change.
Metacognitive abilities may foster conceptual change by detecting and monitoring incongruities in an existing conceptual system. This alerts the learner to potential problems, but it does not itself reveal the nature of the problem or its resolution (Gelman and Lucariello, 2002; Inagaki and Hatano, 2002). When an unexpected result arises, there can be many reasons for the anomalous data: a fluke result, poor data collection technique, a faulty