Conceptual classroom environment - a system view of learning

Miriam Reiner, Billie Eilam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines the relations between changes in the beliefs of an individual student and the distribution of beliefs in a classroom. The distribution of beliefs among students is termed here 'conceptual environment'. Based on social views of learning, we suggest that conceptual environment is an indicator of the conceptual tension in a group. We show that conceptual change of individuals does not necessarily result in changes in the classroom conceptual environment. Conceptual change is normally viewed as a personal process. We look at the relations between individual conceptual change (a microscopic view) and total classroom conceptual change (a macroscopic, system view). We study changes in students' ideas of a food chain. Then we look for underlying ontological beliefs that may explain students' ideas, and examine changes in students' responses prior and consequent to the instruction sessions. Classroom concepts of a food chain reflect an underlying set of beliefs of a mechanistic nature. For instance the metaphor of a 'chain of beads' is employed to explain the relations among elements of a food chain. Though more than half of the students changed their responses, ontological beliefs were hardly changed. Changes in students' responses apparently cancelled each other, thus from the classroom point of view, only a minor change was identified in the overall conceptual environment. The social-conceptual tension involved in conceptual change is not necessarily changed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)551-568
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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