Role of Metacognition in Facilitating Conceptual Change Learning

Omowumi Alabi, University of Missouri - Kansas City

The inclusion of current environmental topics, such as global climate change, ozone depletion and ozone pollution in our introductory environmental science curriculum at the University of Missouri-Kansas City provides an opportunity for our students to learn about ongoing environmental issues, connect classroom materials and 'real life', and develop a pro-environment attitude. However, this task is not without challenges. This is because our students frequently come to school with preconceived notions of the nature of these problems. After teaching the introductory environmental science laboratory to different student populations for ten consecutive semesters I have observed specific misconceptions among my students, regarding global warming and ozone depletion. Even after instruction, many students still held the idea that the ozone hole causes global warming.

Students enter their science classrooms with a wealth of knowledge. They construct their own ideas about how the world works and explain scientific phenomena in terms of these ideas. These kinds of notions are referred to as naive beliefs, misconceptions, alternative conceptions; and such preconceptions seldom match the scientific explanations that are taught in science courses (Wandersee, Mintzes, & Novak, 1994). These misconceptions may have been influenced by their prior experiences, textbooks, teachers' explanations or the media (Toby, 1997). Addressing these inaccurate notions through instruction has been a challenge to science teachers because students' misconceptions are notoriously difficult to change (Kerr & Walz, 2007). Numerous studies, conducted in different parts of the world, show that students come to class and leave, with the same content misinformation even when the content is directly dealt with in class (Khalid, 2003; Cordero, 2002; Nazario et al. 2002, Jeffries et al., 2001).

What could a teacher address during instruction that might facilitate conceptual change in students' ideas? Conceptual change is generally defined as learning that changes an existing way of thinking. Many researchers have demonstrated the importance of mental management (monitoring and control of thoughts) or metacognition, as a means to support the restructuring of ideas in science. Blank (2000) reported that students in the metacognitive classroom experienced a more permanent restructuring of their understanding. Misconceptions are a special category of knowing-not knowing, in which students think they understand a concept, but their understanding is fundamentally incorrect (Eylon & Linn 1988). According to Groves & Pugh (2002), these cognitive illusions may act as hindrances to understanding complex environmental issues such as global warming, stratospheric ozone depletion and tropospheric ozone pollution.

My goal is to help my students overcome mental blockages due to pre-existing knowledge so that they can clearly distinguish between the causes and effects of closely related environmental phenomena. My present plight is how to structure my lessons to include metacognition as an instructional tool that enables students to be confronted with their personal beliefs, realize that these are not accurate, and be led through constructing a scientifically more correct model (Zirbel, 2006). This requires students to constantly ask self-directed questions and reflect on their own learning. By attending this workshop, I hope to learn more about metacognition, especially its role in facilitating conceptual change.

References Cited

Blank, L. M., 2000. A metacognitive learning cycle: A better warranty for student understanding? Science Education, v. 84, p.486-506

Cordero, E. C., 2002. Is the Ozone Hole over Your Classroom? Australian Science Teachers' Journal, v. 48, p.34-39

Eylon B.S. and Linn M.C. 1988. Learning and instruction: An examination of four research perspectives in science education. Review of Education Research, v. 58, p.251-301

Groves, F.H. and Pugh, A.F., 2002. Cognitive illusions as Hindrances to Learning Complex Environmental Issues. Journal of Science Education and Technology, v. 11, p.381-390

Jeffries H.; Stanisstreet M.; Boyes E., 2001. Knowledge about the 'Greenhouse Effect': have college students improved? v.19, p.205-221

Kerr, S.C. and Walz, K.A., 2007. "Holes" in Student Understanding: Addressing Prevalent Misconceptions Regarding Atmospheric Environmental Chemistry. Journal of Chemical Education, v. 84, p.1693-1696

Khalid, T., 2003. Pre-service High School Teachers' Perception of Three Environmental Phenomena. Environmental Education Research v.9 p.35-50

Nazario G. M., Burrowes P.A. and Rodriquez J., 2002. Persisting misconceptions: Using pre- and post-tests to identify biological misconceptions. Journal of College Science Teaching, v.31, p.292-296

Toby, S., 1997. Chemistry in the Public Domain: A Plethora of Misinformation - or, Don't Believe Everything You Read in the Newspapers! Journal of Chemical Education v. 74 p.1285-1287

Wandersee, J. H., Mintzes, J. J., & Novak, J. D., 1994. Research on alternative conceptions in science In D. L. Gabel (Ed.), Handbook of research in science teaching and learning p.177–210. New York: Macmillan.

Zirbel, 2006. Teaching to Promote Deep Understanding and Instigate Conceptual Change. Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, Vol. 38, p.1220.