Section 1 - About Workshop Two:
"Why Are Some Ideas So Difficult?"
What is the theme of this workshop? The theme of Workshop Two
is "discovering the scope of student ideas".
Whom do we see in the video? Jon, a seventh-grade student, is
interviewed before and after a traditional lesson on photosynthesis. Bob
Holden, Jon's teacher, watches the video of Jon's interviews, discovering
that Jon's problems in biology concern his confusion about the physics and
chemistry of matter and energy. Jon also has no concept of energy and the
relationship of energy to chemical changes. He seems to be missing the concept
that chemical changes may either require an input of energy or may release
What happens in the video? Interviews with Jon suggest that teaching
can be more effective when the full scope of a student's ideas are considered.
What problem does this workshop address? Photosynthesis is among
the most widely taught of all concepts in biology. Why, then, do many people
have difficulty grasping the central idea of photosynthesis-that most of
the substance of plants comes from the air?
What teaching strategy does this workshop offer? Among many possibilities
to help students reflect on their own thinking, we offer such techniques
as concept mapping and journal keeping.
Section 2 - "Why Are Some Ideas So Difficult?"
A. The Goals for Workshop Two
"Why Are Some Ideas So Difficult?" is for any teacher interested
in and committed to helping students overcome persistent barriers to learning.
Even though this video focuses on a middle school biology student, teachers
of all subjects and all grade levels will gain new insights into science
learning in the classroom.
One of the purposes of this video is to provoke discussion on the topic
of building curricula around difficult concepts in science. After viewing
this videotape, you may want to discuss the following issues:
How can curriculum developers create classroom units and lessons
that account for the full scope of student ideas? What ideas need to be
taught? At what age? What's missing from the standard curricula that you
know about? Often the ideas established prior to and outside the teaching
of a subject block learning. How can this problem be addressed in the classroom?
For instance, the student in the video has trouble understanding photosynthesis
because of his belief that air has no weight. An understanding that air
is made of invisible particles with weight is usually a topic for a chemistry
or a physics lesson, and a lack of this understanding prevents the student
from learning an idea in biology.
There is a tendency for parents and others to blame teachers when students
don't learn. It is important to realize that teachers do not cause
learning. This video is about understanding how a student learns as the
shift in focus goes from teaching to learning.
In this video, we show Bob Holden, a fourth grade teacher at a suburban
middle school. If we had unlimited time to show Bob's thoughts, preparation,
and teaching, it would be clear to everyone that he is an exemplary professional.
Unfortunately, we have only a limited amount of time for the entire workshop.
Here are several questions that relate directly to the video.
Workshop Discussion After Viewing Video
What problems do teachers face in the classroom? Even though Bob started
this process with a high degree of skills, talent, and experience, what
positive changes did Bob experience? What aspects of Jon's class were typical
of how you might treat this subject? What aspects of Jon's class differed
from how you might treat this subject?
Section 3 - Exercises
A. Exercises: Responding to Workshop Two
Devise a simple explanation, demonstration, or activity for understanding
how plants convert carbon dioxide from the air and water from the ground
into food through photosynthesis.
Invent a way that allows even the skeptical students to convince
themselves that the air does, indeed, have mass/weight. Whenever possible,
allow students to test the idea.
B. Exercise: Preparing for Workshop Three
As workshop participants, you will get the greatest benefit from the
next workshop if you complete the following exercise:
Pre-Workshop Activity for Workshop Three
Ask students, family, colleagues, and/or friends how they would
light a light bulb with nothing more than a battery, wire, and the bulb.
Have them draw diagrams to illustrate their explanations.
Section 4 - Educational Strategy
A. Concept Maps
What is a concept map?
A concept map is a diagram showing the relationships between things or
ideas. In technical terms, each thing or idea in the map is called a "concept"
and each relationship is called a "proposition." In a concept
map, the concepts (ideas) are placed in boxes and the propositions (relationships)
are indicated by lines connecting the boxes. A very simple concept map could
have two boxes connected by a single line.
For instance, in order to make a concept map of the sentence "The
sky is blue." we first put the words "sky" and "blue"
in boxes. (See diagrams at right.)
Then we connect the boxes with a line labeled "is."
This concept map represents the meaning of the sentence "The sky
is blue." Most concept maps are more complex than the above example.
Some of them are much more complex.
The power of a concept map lies in its ability to externalize--or make
visible--the thinker's thoughts. By making a concept map, you are providing
a window into your thought processes for others as well as for yourself.
Often, the process of making a concept map stimulates the map maker to recognize
new relationships between concepts and find new meanings in ideas. In this
way it can be a kind of visual "thinking out loud."
What are the uses of concept maps?
Concept maps and concept mapping activities can be powerful tools for
teaching, learning, and assessment. Here are some examples of each use.
Concept maps for teaching
A teacher can include concept mapping in planning instruction. By making
a concept map of a particular topic, such as "photosynthesis,"
the teacher can decide which concepts are the most important to include,
what the relationships are between the key concepts, which concepts depend
on an understanding of other ideas, and the best order in which to present
the key concepts.
By first having students create concept maps of how they understand
a topic, the teacher can infer the state of their initial knowledge. The
teacher then has a better idea of which aspects of a lesson to emphasize
and is free from depending solely on assumptions of the students' needs.
In addition, the process of concept mapping can stimulate students to a
more sophisticated understanding of a topic even before it is presented
Concept maps for learning
In the course of creating a concept map, a student may develop new relationships
between concepts. The student may be able to recognize and address logical
problems in a previous way of thinking. As a result, the student may find
new meanings in old ideas. In this way, making a concept map can be a creative
Concept maps for assessment
Students' concept maps can provide clear pictures into their thinking
and understanding. A teacher can use concept maps made by students at different
points to track learning and development. A concept map made at the end
of a lesson can give a teacher a wealth of information at a glance. How
many of the target concepts did the student include? How accurate are the
relationships between the concepts? How complex or simplistic is the student's
understanding of the topic? How many levels of relationship and cross-connections
did the student recognize? Few assessment tools can provide so much information
in such a compact package.
How are concept maps made?
A good concept map can be made in a relatively few steps.
Identify and list the key concepts in the topic to be mapped.
Organize the key concepts with the most general ones at the top of
the list and the most specific ones at the bottom. (Put each into a separate
"box.") Maps should take on a hierarchical, triangular form.
Add words and lines linking the concept boxes to make statements about
Look for cross-links between concepts on different parts of the map.
Revise the map until it accurately represents your thinking.
If available, use computer software to construct a concept map. (Macflow
is a program that does this.)
Adapted from Novak, Joseph D. and D. Bob Gowin. 1984. Learning How
To Learn. Cambridge University Press.
Section 5 - Resources
Companies, publications, and organizations named in this guide represent
a cross-section of such entities. We do not endorse any companies, publications,
or organizations, nor should any endorsement be inferred from a listing
in this guide. Descriptions of such entities are for reference purposes
only. We have provided this information to help locate materials and information.
A. Materials for the Classroom
Other than the CLIS materials from the University of Leeds, which we
have used, we can not attest to the quality of the resources in this list.
Insta-Ice Machine: Produces solid dry ice blocks in 60 seconds.
Polyfoam Packers Corporation
2320 Foster Avenue
Wheeling, IL 60090-6572
CLIS (Children Learning In Science). Research Group Publications
Aspects of Secondary Students' Understanding of Plant Nutrition
CSSME (Center for Studies in Science and Mathematics Education)
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT
Concepts in Science consists of 17 miniseries specifically developed
for use in biology, chemistry, and physics courses at the high school level.
Each mini-series of six 10-minute programs uses computer generated animation
and concludes with a brief summary of the material covered.
Photosynthesis: 6 programs/10 minutes (high school advanced biology)
3-D computer animation shows the dynamic process of photosynthesis at the
Films for the Humanities and Sciences
11 Perrine Road
Monmouth Junction, NJ 08852
For additional information
Ardley, Neil. (1991). The Science Book of Things That Grow. San
Diego: Harcourt Brace Janovich Publishers.
Harcourt Brace Janovich Publishers
VanCleave, Janice. (1993). A+ Projects In Biology: Winning Experiments
for Science Fairs and Extra Credit. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
(paperback, 217 pages, $12.95)
John Wiley & Sons, Inc
SemNet Plus - Professional version. For creating large nets with multimedia
attachments. Advanced editing features
SemNet Research Group
1043 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103
SemNet 1.1 Academic - Student version. All basic features for
creating and making small nets. Can view multimedia attachments
Available from Intellimation: 1-800-346-8353
SemNet 1.1 Shareware - Trial version. All basic features for creating
and viewing small nets
Available from the Internet or by sending a diskette & self-addressed
stamped envelope to the SemNet Research Group
B. Further Reading on Photosynthesis
Amir, R., and P. Tamir. 1994. In-depth analysis of misconceptions as
a basis for developing research-based remedial instruction: The case of
photosynthesis. The American Biology Teacher 56(2): 94-100.
Novak, J. D. and D.B. Gowin. 1984. Learning How to Learn. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Roth, K. J. and C. Anderson. 1985. The Power Plant: Teacher's Guide.
East Lansing, MI: Institute for Research on Teaching, Michigan State University.
Roth, K. J. , C.W. Anderson., R. Hollon., and T. Blakeslee. 1985. The
Power Cell. East Lansing, MI: Institute for Research on Teaching, Michigan
Tourtellotte, S.W. 1990. Biology and chemistry combine in photosynthesis:
An interdisciplinary focus on a natural occurrence. Journal of College
Science Teaching 19(5): 287-291.
Wandersee, J.H. 1986. "Plants or animals: Which do junior high school
students prefer to study?" Journal of Research in Science Teaching
Wandersee, J.H. 1983. What research says: The concept of "away."
Science and Children 21(2): 47-49.
C. Bibliography on Photosynthesis
Barker, M. and M. Carr. 1989a. "Teaching and learning about photosynthesis.
Part I: An assessment in terms of students' prior knowledge." International
Journal of Science Education 11: 49-56.
Barker, M. and M. Carr. 1986b. "Teaching and learning about photosynthesis.
Part II: A generative learning strategy." International Journal
of Science Education 11: 141-152.
Eisen, Y. and R. Stavy. 1988. "Students' understanding of photosynthesis."
American Biology Teacher 50: 208-212.
Smith, E. and C. Anderson. 1984. "Plants and producers: A case study
of elementary science teaching." Journal of Research in Science
Teaching 21(7): 685-698.
Roth, K., E. Smith, and C. Anderson. 1983. Students' conceptions of
photosynthesis and food for plants. East Lansing, MI: Institute for
Research on Teaching, Michigan State University.
Stavy, R., Y. Eisen, and D. Yaakobi. 1989. "How students aged 13-15
understand photosynthesis." International Journal of Science Education
Wandersee, J.H. 1983. "Students' misconceptions about photosynthesis:
a cross-age study." In Helm, H. and J. Novak. Proceedings of the
International Seminar on Misconceptions in Science and Mathematics.
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.