Pause for a moment and reflect on how you learned science in elementary
and high school.
Which of the two scenarios describes the way you learned science?
What did you do to understand the science concepts taught you?
We all go through a process of thinking in trying to make sense of what
we currently experience.
In our minds we use previous experience in trying to understand it.
The meaning generated is a result of a
complicated process. Students need to be assisted
in going through this process.
The first task for teachers is, of course to know how
this process takes place in students. Once
teachers understand how students learn,
they need to develop appropriate science
activities to facilitate the process of
conceptual understanding for their
Students’ Thinking : The Pathway Towards Meaning Making
From a generative learning perspective, students tend to generate meaning
by connecting what they currently experience with prior learnings.
The sources of prior learnings are
Naturalistic Learning Experiences
Informal Learning Experiences
Structured Learning Experiences
The above classification (Charlesworth and Lind, 1990) is
based on who makes the choice of activity – a significant
other or the learner.
Naturalistic learning experiences are spontaneous and it is the
learner who controls both the choice and the action.
The following is an example:
Benedict accidentally spills a
drop of water on the book he is
reading. He discovers that the
letters underneath the drop of
water are bigger than the rest. He
shouts with joy. “I just made a
magnifying lens! ’’
The learner interacts directly with the materials in the environment.
Without any adult intervention he discovers a new idea.
Hill (1992) differentiates informal learning experiences from naturalistic
learning experience in terms of outside intervention by a significant other.
He says that at some point in a naturalistic learning experience there is
Intervention by adult or capable peer who wishes to take advantage of an
opportunity to support, clarify or extend the learning.
Informal learning experiences are not preplanned but are
initiated, when the chance arises, by an adult. The
intervention may take place for a variety of reasons, such
as an obvious need for help, recognition of achievement
or an opportunity to take advantage of a teachable
moment (Ferrer, 1996)
An example of an informal learning experience is shown below.
Jess is fishing with his father at a nearby lake. With his bow and arrow he
targets a fish but misses it. His father tells him to try again by aiming at a
direction that is slightly off the position of the fish as he sees it from above
The adult in this situation use this teachable moment
to introduce refraction of light by capitalizing on the
child’s quest to achieve his goal at that particular time
– to catch a fish with his bow and arrow.
The child’s current experience is used as starting
point for the informal lesson in science.
The role of the adult is to provide a rich and stimulating environment with
many things to investigate first hand.
The adult can interfere at some point of the learning to ensure that the
correct meaning is being constructed by the child.
The adult can respond with a smile or other form of recognition to reinforce
learning that is taking place.
Structured learning experiences are those associated with classroom
activities provided by an adult who is usually the teacher.
Students learning activities are planned for
and executed according to the scheme of
action in the teacher’s lesson plan. However,
many of the activities teachers’ carry out do
not produce the intended learning outcomes.
Students learn from structured experiences
in the classroom is often not linked to their
naturalistic and informal learning experiences
gained outside the classroom.
Teachers often act as if students come to school
without any knowledge of the subject matter
at all but the truth is, many students possess prior
knowledge of the things we teach
them which they get from naturalistic and
informal learning experiences.
This prior knowledge, according
to Northfield and Symington
(1991), influences how and what
When a student is faced with a
new encounter, he/she
constructs the meaning of it by
connecting the new information
received with prior knowledge.
There are possible outcomes
when a student attempts to
connect a new encounter with
A new encounter fits into what has been stored in the
mind from a previous learning experience.
When the existing idea that is called upon to explain, the
new encounter proves its usefulness, the linked idea is
Prior knowledge is retained.
Incomplete Fit Prior knowledge is retained and the new knowledge
is not accommodated.
It may also be that there are some perceived
similarities between the new experience and a prior one.
The linked idea will have a complete fit only if it is slightly
modified. Otherwise, the learner will still hang on to his/her
Howe and Nichols (2001) point out that knowledge
is built by assimilating new ideas or experiences and
accommodating or modifying old knowledge to include
Construction of a modified knowledge a
misunderstanding or a misconception might occur. A
misunderstanding often results from immature thinking
process, where partial evidence has been gathered and
taken into account (Harlen, 2001)
The new encounter does not fit at all with any prior learning experience,
the information from the new encounter is abandoned.
There are possibilities that the knowledge gained from the new encounter
may be accommodated falsely.
If the learner perceives that the
information before him/her is
important for examination purposes,
then this information is
accommodated in the short-term
memory. After the need for it is
satisfied, it is removed from memory
as if that information is never
encountered at all.
Examples to illustrate the aforementioned
Teacher X is explaining about energy-giving
foods. She tells the class that sugar gives the
body the most energy.
Student A, an athlete of the school, connects
the statement with his own prior knowledge
that he acquired from his PE coach who gives
glucoline before the competition. He knows
very well that glucose is sugar.
Student A accommodates the new
information given by Teacher X because it fits
completely with a prior learning experience.
Prior knowledge is reinforced. (Complete Fit)
Student B, who was not an
athlete, believes that it is rice that
gives him most energy. His
mother always told him to eat
plenty of rice to make him strong.
Since strength is associated with
energy, Student B does not see
any relationship between what
the teachers says and what he
He drops the teacher’s statement
and holds on to his prior
knowledge that rice gives him
the most energy. (Misfit)
Student C is more flexible than
She has the same conception as of
Student B but she accommodates
the teacher’s statement because
she knows it will come out in the
She still holds on to her prior
knowledge about food which runs
contrary to the new information.
After the examination, her prior
knowledge remains and the one
from the new encounter is thrown
Student D recalls an experience just
before breaking a fast. He remembers
eating dates before taking a full
He wonders and tells himself that this
is probably connected with what the
Because of limited knowledge,
Student D may not able to generate
the meaning that nest explains the
There is a need, therefore, to guide his
knowledge construction. (Incomplete
It is important to scaffold thinking to promote conceptual
understanding in science.
- The End -
Prepared By :
Paul John T Barrientos III-BSEd