Learning, Understanding, and Conceptual Change

Jake Jewett

May 19, 2013


CEP 810 Learning, Understanding, and Conceptual Change Essay


From my experiences as a student and now as a teacher for the past four years, learning is best achieved by rolling up the sleeves and doing the work yourself.  One of the key components in chapter one of How People Learn by Bransford, Brown, and Cocking is that students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works.  Simply standing in front of a group of students and lecturing is not going to engage these preconceptions.  Students can acquire knowledge from their teachers, but to fully learn and understand new concepts, they must test their preconceptions.  To summarize in the simplest way, teachers must create an environment in the classroom where students can learn by doing.  This way, they can come to understand new ideas and test their preconceptions.

Learning is not hearing facts and being able to regurgitate them.  Instead, learning is acquiring new knowledge and testing that knowledge against preconceptions to come to a deeper understanding.  In the book How People Learn, the authors state, “schools and classrooms must be learner centered” (p. 23).  To me, this means that educators must get to know their students and have an understanding of their preconceptions.  This way, misconceptions can be identified and tested to eventually lead to an understanding of how their original way of thinking was not accurate.  A great example of this is when I have taught the unit about the Earth’s movement around the Sun.  A common misconception students have is that when the weather becomes warm or cold, it is because the Earth is either getting closer or moving further away from the Sun.  Once I teach my students about the Earth’s rotation within its orbit around the Sun, they come to a deeper understanding by comparing their new knowledge to what they previously believed to be true.

Teaching methods that incorporate the “learning by doing” approach, in my opinion, work best to help students fully understand new concepts.  In chapter three of How People Learn, the authors state, “It has been estimated that world-class chess masters require from 50,000 to 100,000 hours of practice to reach the level of expertise” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 56).  This is a great example of how important it is for students to take a new concept or skill and practice it in engaging ways.  To achieve this in my second grade classroom, I engage my students in “Clap-Chant-Write” each week to practice our new spelling words.  With this method, as a whole class, we clap the letters of each word on our spelling list, chant them out loud next, and end with writing them repeatedly for about a minute until I ring a chime to signal moving on to the next word.  This method proves to be a fun and exciting way for students to practice their spelling words.  In addition, this method adheres to the bodily-kinesthetic learners in my classroom who learn best while they are active and moving.  Conversely, if I were to just write the new spelling words on the whiteboard each week not requiring my students to write them down on their own, we would definitely not reach a level of mastery across the classroom.  Instead, students would acquire new knowledge but not reach a level of understanding that is necessary to prove they have fully learned what was intended.

Overall, it is very important to consider these foundational ideas when studying educational technologies.  I believe this to be true because technology can help tremendously with engaging students and helping them learn new concepts.  In my classroom, I have used blogs, I have “Skyped” with other classrooms, and I have had my students practice various different skills via online gaming.  Without a doubt, these methods have helped my students take concepts and skills they have been introduced to in class and practice them in fun and engaging ways leading to proficiency and mastery.  Students are given a new concept, and technology will help with exploring that new concept and understanding it completely.


Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., and Cocking, R.R. (2000).  How People Learn Brain, Mind, Experience, and School Expanded Edition (pp. 3-77).  Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.


2 responses to “Learning, Understanding, and Conceptual Change

  1. Jake,
    I teach K-12 and second grade is probably my favorite age. I love your spelling word strategy and it reminds me of something I did as an elementary student (with my mom’s help, of course!). If there were words that I had a hard time spelling, we would turn them into a rhythm or a simple melody. We did the same thing with a couple of multiplication facts that I had a hard time remembering. I still remember “encyclopedia” and “Mississippi” and “6 x 8 is 48” with the rhythms I learned 30+ years ago.
    Since I spend my afternoons teaching in our elementary computer lab, I get to see how excited students get about using technology at school. We have one second grade teacher who integrates technology into her class on a regular basis and another teacher who never does. The difference between the two class is amazing. One class is exploring Google Earth, signing into Edmodo and helping each their friends access typing games through my website while the other class thinks that computer time is game time every week (and it never has been). I’m going to look into using blogs with a few classes. That could be a great way to share even with the younger students.
    Thanks for the insight.
    Ross Bonjernoor

  2. I enjoy the examples in your essay, which clearly explain learning and understanding. And the reflection of educational technology was nice to state “technology will help with exploring that new concept and understanding it on a deeper level”.

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