Effect of instruction using students' prior knowledge and conceptual change strategies on science learning


  • This paper is based in part on the unpublished Ph.D. thesis of M. G. Hewson. This paper was presented at the NARST Annual Meeting, 1981.


One of the factors affecting students' learning in science is their existing knowledge prior to instruction. The students' prior knowledge provides an indication of the alternative conceptions as well as the scientific conceptions possessed by the students. This study is concerned primarily with students' alternative conceptions and with instructional strategies to effect the learning of scientific conceptions; i.e., to effect conceptual change from alternative to scientific conceptions. The conceptual change model used here suggests conditions under which alternative conceptions can be replaced by or differentiated into scientific conceptions and new conceptions can be integrated with existing conceptions. The instructional strategy and materials were developed for a particular student population, namely, black high school students in South Africa, using their previously identified prior knowledge (conceptions and alternative conceptions) and incorporate the principles for conceptual change. The conceptions involved were mass, volume, and density. An experimental group of students was taught these concepts using the special instructional strategy and materials. A control group was taught the same concepts using a traditional strategy and materials. Pre- and posttests were used to assess the conceptual change that occurred in the experimental and control groups. The results showed a significantly larger improvement in the acquisition of scientific conceptions as a result of the instructional strategy and materials which explicitly dealt with student alternative conceptions.