• Conceptual change;
  • Learning mechanisms;
  • Causal schemes;
  • Microgenetic analysis;
  • Science learning


This work uses microgenetic study of classroom learning to illuminate (1) the role of pre-instructional student knowledge in the construction of normative scientific knowledge, and (2) the learning mechanisms that drive change. Three enactments of an instructional sequence designed to lead to a scientific understanding of thermal equilibration are used as data sources. Only data from a scaffolded student inquiry preceding introduction of a normative model were used. Hence, the study involves nearly autonomous student learning. In two classes, students developed stable and socially shared explanations (“causal schemes”) for understanding thermal equilibration. One case resulted in a near-normative understanding, while the other resulted in a non-normative “alternative conception.” The near-normative case seems to be a particularly clear example wherein the constructed causal scheme is a composition of previously documented naïve conceptions. Detailed prior description of these naive elements allows a much better than usual view of the corresponding details of change during construction of the new scheme. A list of candidate mechanisms that can account for observed change is presented. The non-normative construction seems also to be a composition, albeit of a different structural form, using a different (although similar) set of naïve elements. This article provides one of very few high-resolution process analyses showing the productive use of naïve knowledge in learning.