Inspirational Practices for Teaching Difficult Content
Scholarly knowledge that emerges from research cannot be taught in its raw form; it must be adjusted to comply with program learning objectives, which poses a particular challenge when it comes to teaching and learning scientific concepts that are often abstract. While this necessary “didactic transposition” should facilitate learning, it seems that it can also create obstacles, gaps or even contradictions between disciplinary knowledge and knowledge learned by the student. Indeed, certain choices regarding the breakdown, organization and dissemination of the knowledge to be learned can cause problems for future teaching. This is the case with chemistry, where, for purposes of simplification, models describing the structure of the atom are taught at the secondary level, following the chronological order of scientific discoveries they are based on, without touching on the model currently accepted by the scientific community, which is taught at the college-level program. And yet, because they do not agree with current scientific theories, the atomic models previously learned are in fact distorted notions that—and all chemistry teachers will agree—are deeply rooted in the minds of students, impeding the transition to an accurate conceptualization of the model of the atom. Although these concepts are difficult to modify, through their practices, some college teachers help to promote a change in the way students view the atom. In a PAREA1 study, the author explored teaching practices used to transform scholarly knowledge related to the probabilistic model of the atom, and drew links between them and the knowledge actually learned by students in order to highlight approaches for teaching content deemed difficult, complex, or that requires more abstract thought. Although the practices presented here are studied from the specific disciplinary perspective of chemistry, the results of the research may augment the didactic reflection of teachers of all disciplines. While new teachers will find ideas to help them plan their courses, the more experienced will be able to use these inspiring practices to evaluate their teaching methods and make adjustments as needed.
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