Wiser (1997)

This US book chapter explores using computer-based modelling to address students' misconceptions and promote theory change. It highlights that some misconceptions are internally coherent for students and require significant concept reconstruction. The author discusses model-based approaches and simulations to differentiate heat and temperature.


  • Teachers should appreciate that student misconceptions are likely not to be isolated 'incorrect' ideas, but internally coherent alternative theories that differ from the textbook theory. That internal coherence will not appear noticeable when student ideas are thought of in the context of the textbook theory.
  • The author suggests employing a holistic approach to theory change by using models which "present the textbook theory as a network of concepts, relations, and explanatory schemata, which constrain each other", rather than models which suggest new ideas for students to try and reconcile with their existing, naïve theory.

Learners’ ideas

  • Students had a limited ability to differentiate between heat and temperature.
  • Students think of 'heat' and 'cold' as separate entities.
  • Students have no concept of the extensivity of heat. They account for extensivity through a causal scheme: Larger sources have more effect not because they give off more heat but because they have more contact area with the recipient, thereby applying their heat to a larger portion of the recipient.
  • Thermal equilibrium is seen as a consequence of a heat source communicating heat of a certain degree to the recipient and cannot make it hotter than itself, not as expressing the conditions for heat exchange.
  • Students may conclude from experiments that "specific heat is related to density, a conclusion that fits well within their framework: less dense substances such as alcohol absorb heat faster than denser substances such as water because they let heat through more easily".

Study Structure


To "elaborate science education through the discussion of its historical background".

Evidence collection

A group of students taught with the models to a comparable group taught the same topics for the same time (two weeks) in a traditional manner. Reconceptualization was assessed using individual clinical interviews administered before and after the teaching intervention.

The author reports that students who used the models seemed to show greater understanding than a control group, giving 'very encouraging results'.

Details of the sample

The participants in the modelling consisted of eleventh-grade honours students (top set, ~16 years old ) and lower-set ninth-grade students. The sample size is not described.

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