Bridging Knowledge Acquired From Experience With Scientific Information Inconsistent With Everyday Experience

Year: 2015

Author: Vosniadou, Stella

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

For many years I have been trying to understand why students find science and mathematics concepts taught in educational settings so difficult to understand. It could be of course argued that these concepts are difficult because they are quite complex and abstract; however, the characteristic that I would like to focus on in this presentation and the one that has impressed me most is that they are counter-intuitive and inconsistent with everyday experience. Current scientific and mathematical concepts taught even to children in first grade are the products of scientific revolutions that took hundreds of years for our culture to develop and are usually inconsistent with perceived information or even with information communicated in the context of lay culture and language.
Although educators usually focus on learning experiences that take place in formal educational settings, most of the learning that takes place in the life-time of an individual happens outside the classroom. By the time children start going to school, they have already acquired a great deal of knowledge about the physical and social world as well as about mathematics and language, based on their everyday, practical experiences. A great deal of this learning is implicit and not subject to metaconceptual awareness. It is not however fragmented. Rather it is organised in broad conceptual categories (i.e., the category of physical/inanimate vs. psychological/animate entities) which become increasingly more complex and differentiated. There is a great deal of psychological research that documents the development of this type of knowledge starting from birth and throughout the infancy and preschool years.
Until recently, most researchers believed that when scientific and mathematical knowledge is acquired at school, it replaces the ‘incorrect’ explanations based on everyday experience. But recent research shows that this is not the case. Even in experts, initial concepts based on everyday experience continue to exist and can inhibit access to scientific concepts. Furthermore, for most students, scientific concepts either remain ‘inert’ (i.e., do not transfer to areas even slightly different from the circumstances in which they were acquired) or are assimilated to everyday knowledge creating ‘hybrid’ or ‘synthetic’ conceptions.
The above raise the question, to be examined in this presentation, of whether it is possible, and if so how, to teach in ways that bridge knowledge acquired from everyday experience with scientific information that is inconsistent with this experience.