Taber - IJSE 2008

Exploring Conceptual Integration in Student Thinking: Evidence from a case study
International Journal of Science Education, Volume 30, Issue 14 November 2008 , pages 1915 - 1943

Keith S. Taber

Two reasons are suggested for studying the degree of conceptual integration in student thinking. The linking of new material to existing knowledge is an important aspect of meaningful learning. It is also argued that conceptual coherence is a characteristic of scientific knowledge and a criterion used in evaluating new theories. Appreciating this 'scientific value' should be one objective when students learn about the nature of science. These considerations imply that students should not only learn individual scientific models and principles, but should be taught to see how they are linked together. The present paper describes the use of an interview protocol designed to explore conceptual integration across two college-level subjects (chemistry and physics). The novelty here is that a single interview is used to elicit explanations of a wide range of phenomena. The potential of this approach is demonstrated through an account of one student's scientific thinking, showing both how she applied fundamental ideas widely, and also where conceptual integration was lacking. The value and limitations of using this type of interview as one means for researching conceptual integration in students' thinking are discussed.