Detecting students’ misconceptions

Using a set of tools to detect students’ misconceptions as part of teaching and learning activity.

Frida is teaching Natural Science, in an upper secondary school in Norway. At the moment she is presenting one of the six units in the curricula, Energy for the Future. The unit comprises six learning goals, and although some of the learning goals should be slightly familiar for the students from previous years as the theme has often been discussed in general, Frida would like to see what the students already know, and what they might misunderstand concerning this unit. In order to do so Frida would like to use a tool where the students have to distinguish between the different terms used in this unit. In addition to being an activity for the students, Frida would like to be informed in detail about the students’ competence level. At this point she is not interested in the students’ achievements, but in their understanding, general competence gaps, and specific misconceptions in order to know what to focus on in the next learning activity. Being able to study the results, in a quick way where results are visualised student by student and at class level, would help her provide formative feedback and scaffold single student and the group.

NEXT-TELL offers two tools, which used in combination with an associated, can support her needs. First, Next-TELL’s web-based Repertory Grid for Formative Assessment (RGFA) tool for eliciting personal constructs of learners about elements belonging to the topic of study; second the OLMlets tool for identifying individual students’ misconceptions; and third, the Next-TELL Open Learner Model (OLM) that visualises learner progress towards various competence goals.

To prepare the RGFA tool for the students, Frida identifies important elements (concepts, pictures of concepts, or videos) from the unit   grouping them in various triads. Using RGFA the students select one element from each triad, and explain why this element is chosen and why it differs from the other two. While there is not necessary a correct answer, the student’s explanations give Frida an overview of her students’ choices and the reason why, giving her insight into their knowledge level for the unit.

From RGFA Frida retrieves a detailed summary on the students’ answers. For example, Frida could identify that Jon, one of her students, has difficulties in understanding the differences in solar traps and solar cells.  Using this information Frida then makes questions tailored to identify this specific misconception and uses the OLMlets tool to develop a quiz that students can use to identify their own misconceptions.   For each question she adds to OLMlets Frida can identify the correct answer, a wrong answer, and specific misconception(s). For each misconception Frida defines a related feedback that tells the student that it is suspected that they have this misconception.  After taking the quiz the answers are visualised for the students, helping them identify specific areas where they need further work.  Frida can easily identify which students had which misconception and she is able to tailor her teaching to deal with the misconceptions.

As the students answer the questions using the OLMlets tool, the Open Learning Model (OLM) is building/updating a competence model based on their answers.  The students and Frida are able to log into the OLM in order to see their competence models. As part of her preparations for the unit Frida has prepared the OLM by identifying six different competence goals that are addressed in the Energy for the Future unit. She also has defined a number of learning activities for the unit, one of which is the OLMlets, which will feed evidence towards the different competences as the student carry out the activities. As they complete the activities, the student can log onto the OLM and see a visualised model of their learning, and how their different competences are developing. The visualisation gives the student information regarding which competences they need to work on and gives Frida the ability to identify which competences individuals or different clusters in the class are striving with. This enables her to design her teaching or further learning activities for clusters or for individual students (e.g., she can place the students in different groups in order for them to focus on the goals with which they may have problems).

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