Developing a hypothetical multi-dimensional learning progression for the nature of matter



We describe efforts toward the development of a hypothetical learning progression (HLP) for the growth of grade 7–14 students' models of the structure, behavior and properties of matter, as it relates to nanoscale science and engineering (NSE). This multi-dimensional HLP, based on empirical research and standards documents, describes how students need to incorporate and connect ideas within and across their models of atomic structure, the electrical forces that govern interactions at the nano-, molecular, and atomic scales, and information in the Periodic Table to explain a broad range of phenomena. We developed a progression from empirical data that characterizes how students currently develop their knowledge as part of the development and refinement of the HLP. We find that most students are currently at low levels in the progression, and do not perceive the connections across strands in the progression that are important for conceptual understanding. We suggest potential instructional strategies that may help students build organized and integrated knowledge structures to consolidate their understanding, ready them for new ideas in science, and help them construct understanding of emerging disciplines such as NSE, as well as traditional science disciplines. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 47:687–715, 2010