Lab: Alternative conceptions literature review

Secondary School Science Teaching Methods

Adam Johnston & Sharon Ohlhorst

Today’s lab will consist of you doing a quick survey of research on alternative conceptions in your field of interest.  This will entail trying to find a concept(s) to focus on, finding some information that pertains to the learning of that concept, and reporting what you find to the rest of the class.  The primary goals are to determine what resources you can use with regards to science education research and to introduce you to what we already know about the learning of a few concepts.

First, team up with someone in your field or a related field and brainstorm what kinds of concepts might be interesting to research further.  Consider what is in the core, but also consider the many concepts that are connected to what is explicitly in the core.  For example, your core may suggest that students should know what is in the solar system, but this concept cannot be fully understood if your students do not understand the scale relationships of objects in the solar system.  Similarly, students will have a hard time understanding concepts of evolution and geological processes if they do not have an understanding of the time scales involved.

Second, try to get a good overview of the research on your topic in the short time allowed.  You should peruse articles, web sites, books, etc. to get a general understanding of what we know about the learning of your particular concept.  Some places that you might start looking include:

q       A database such as
(This looks promising, though it is untested.)

q       Websites such as

q       A search through the databases and stacks of Stewart Library (

q       Look at the many databases of articles available via the library:
(Hint: One place to start would be under the “social and behavioral” databases, and then scrolling to the education databases.)

q       Stewart Library’s electronic journals in science and science education:
(The journals Journal for Research in Science Teaching and Science Education may be good places to browse through for ideas.)

q       Page through texts (e.g., the Driver et al. text on misconceptions) and journals (many of which are lying around the classroom, in the CSME, or in Adam Johnston's office), paying attention to the citations within these.

Finally, you will give a brief (5 minute) report of your findings to the rest of the class.  Give the rest of us an idea of HOW you found your information, as well as WHAT science education research currently says about the concept of interest.  It is fully understood that you will not have the full details of the research, but you probably can get an idea of what is out there.