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Dr Keith S Taber (University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education)


Exploring Conceptual Learning, Integration and Progression in Science Education

This project seeks to develop a better understanding of how conceptual learning occurs in science, with a particular focus on how well the learner's conceptions are integrated, and how conceptual frameworks develop over time. The project is underpinned by a constructivist position on learning - that the nature of all learning is highly contingent (upon prior learning, learning context, features of language...). ('Constructivism as Educational Theory' can be downloaded here.)The project draws upon research and scholarship into students' alternative conceptions and conceptual frameworks ('misconceptions', 'intuitive theories' etc.) This project is intended to develop theory about learning science that will be of practical use to teachers, learners and those responsible for determining the science curriculum.

Student ideas about science topics

The ECLIPSE project website includes many examples of students' ideas and learning difficulties in science topics from the school and college curriculum, as well as background material on themes such as Alternative conceptions (Misconceptions; alternative frameworks); Analogy and Simile; Anthropomorphism; Bringing to mind; Causality - cause and effect; Constructivism as a theory to support teaching; Explanations; Scaffolding; Tacit knowledge; Teleology; Tautology. 

The science topics page offers links to examples of things students have said or written in a wide range of science topic areas, including acceleration; acids & alkalis; adaptation; atomic structure; atoms, ions & molecules; big bang theory; causality; cells; change of state; chemical bonding; chemical change/chemical reactions; chemical stability; combustion/burning; dissolving; electricity; electrolysis; electronegativity; elements, compounds and mixtures; energy; evolution; fluid flow; forces; formulae; friction; gases; gravity; heat; hormones; ionisation; light; magnets/magnetism; mass spectroscopy; materials; metabolism; nature of science; particles; periodic table; photosynthesis; plant nutrition; proteins; radioactivity; reproduction; respiration; resonance; rocks; scientific laws; scientific symbols; solutions; space; states of matter.

New book

The work of the ECLIPSE project is discussed in a new book from Routledge:

Taber, K. S. (2014). Student Thinking and Learning in Science: Perspectives on the Nature and Development of Learners' Ideas. New York: Routledge.

Download the flyer for the book

Student 'misconceptions' (alternative conceptions) in science

Some examples of student ideas and thinking explored in ECLIPSE include:

  • Chemical bonding - chemical bonding understood in terms of atoms wanting to fill their electron shells: the basis of an extensive alternative conceptual framework
  • Chemical stability - student conceptions of chemical stability dominated by notions of the intrinsic stability of octets/full shells
  • Conservation of substance - fuels get 'used up' on burning: pupil's intuitive notion
  • Electrical resistance - electrical resistance depends upon density: as resistance is understood as a blocking of the flow of charge
  • Ionic charge - deviation conception of electrical charge: positive ionic charge understood as having electrons over a full shell; negative ionic charge understood as being electrons short of a full shell
  • Ionisation energy- students apply alternative conceptions to  explaining patterns in ionisation energy, and retain their hard core conceptions despite degree study
  • Metallic bonding - students misconceive the nature of metallic bonding in terms of prior learning about covalent and ionic bonding
  • Nuclear charge sharing - conservation of force conception: that an atomic nucleus gives rise to a fixed amount of electrical force (depending on its charge) which is shared between the electrons present
  • Orbitals - student misunderstanding of orbital models of atomic and molecular systems
  • Thickness of light - refraction of light understood in terms of a visualisation of light as having a physical thickness, part of which passes across an interface before the rest.

For examples of how students explain such ideas in their own words, visit the ECLIPSE Project website.

ECLIPSE is an umbrella for a series of smaller sub-projects and interests:

  • Understanding Science project - looking at secondary age students' developing understandings of topics in school science, and the links between them;
  • Learning about the nature of science and religion - as part of a concern with students' developing understanding of the nature of science ('how science works'); linked to the collaborative LASAR (Learning about Science and Religion) Project, working with Reading University.
  • Physical Science project - looking at how A level students relate their learning in chemistry and physics; this includes a collaborative project with colleagues at the National Institute of Education in Singapore, exploring learning about the topic of Ionisation Energy (Tan, D., Goh N. K. and Chia L. S. and Taber, K. S. (2005) Development of a Two-Tier Multiple Choice Diagnostic Instrument to Determine A-Level Students' Understanding of Ionisation Energy, Singapore: National Institute of Education - may be accessed from this link Tan et al (2005) Ionisation Energy.pdf (764k).
  • Scaffolding Learning in Physical Science project - exploring the nature of teaching materials that support conceptual learning

Dr. Keith S. Taber