Brook, Angela, Hazel Briggs, and Beverly Bell

Aspects of Secondary Students' Understanding of Particles

University of Leeds
Price: 1.75

Grade focus: 6-8, 9-12

This summary report is one of a series developed by the CLIS Project (Children's Learning in Science Project) in the UK. The series documents the main findings of the project's research on high school student understanding of important ideas in science and their implications for teaching and curriculum development.

This report summarizes the findings of a study of 15-year-old students' understanding of the particulate nature of matter. Information about student understanding was obtained by analysis of extended written responses by 300 students to questions that asked for explanations of phenomena using particle ideas. Most students had been exposed to scientific ideas about the particulate nature of matter at some time in their science courses. The findings suggested that only a small proportion of students used accepted ideas about particles to explain the phenomena presented to them. Many students used incorrect ideas, such as "the particles themselves change in size as the temperature changes," "the particles stop moving when the temperature drops," or "there is air between the particles."

A full account of the investigation is given in:

Brook, A., Briggs, H., and Driver, R. (1983). Secondary student understanding of the particulate nature of matter. Leeds, UK: University of Leeds, Centre for Studies in Science and Mathematics Education.

Also available from the project are:

a) "The Construction of Meaning and Conceptual Change in Classroom Settings: Case Studies on the Particulate Nature of Matter," which documents classroom learning about the particulate nature of matter in order to inform the development of revised teaching practices.

b) "Approaches to Teaching the Particulate Nature of Matter," a description of an approach to teaching the particulate nature of matter to 13- to 14-year-old students. It is based on the constructivist theory of learning, guided by the project's research on student understanding, and written by teams of teachers. The document contains detailed lesson plans and student worksheets.

Other topics investigated in the series of summary reports include Energy, Heat, and Plant Nutrition.