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Student difficulties in learning density: a distributed cognition perspective
journal contributionposted on 2012-08-01, 00:00 authored by Lihua XuLihua Xu, D Clarke
Density has been reported as one of the most difficult concepts for secondary school students (e.g. Smith et al. 1997). Discussion about the difficulties of learning this concept has been largely focused on the complexity of the concept itself or student misconceptions. Few, if any, have investigated how the concept of density was constituted in classroom interactions, and what consequences these interactions have for individual students’ conceptual understanding. This paper reports a detailed analysis of two lessons on density in a 7th Grade Australian science classroom, employing the theory of Distributed Cognition (Hollan et al. 1999; Hutchins 1995). The analysis demonstrated that student understanding of density was shaped strongly by the public classroom discussion on the density of two metal blocks. It also revealed the ambiguities associated with the teacher demonstration and the student practical work. These ambiguities contributed to student difficulties with the concept of density identified in this classroom. The results of this study suggest that deliberate effort is needed to establish shared understanding not only about the purpose of the activities, but also about the meaning of scientific language and the utility of tools. It also suggests the importance of appropriate employment of instructional resources in order to facilitate student scientific understanding.