Science Learning Doctors
Diagnosing 'learning bugs': Deficiency learning impediments
The typology of learning impediments
is intended as a diagnostic tool for thinking about where science learning
'goes wrong'. It is a model of the different types of 'learning bugs'
that may occur when our teaching does link to students' thinking in the ways
One category of learning impediment is deficiency learning impediments:
NULL LEARNING IMPEDIMENTS occur when the intended learning may not take
place because student is unable to make sense of the teaching in terms existing
This may be because the student has never acquired necessary pre-requisite
knowledge, i.e. a deficiency learning impediment
Not having a language for describing quanticle
behaviour: If particles don’t ‘try’, then what do they do?
Not having a language for describing
quanticle behaviour: If particles don’t ‘try’, then what do they do?
Peter [7.1], a year 7 student, told me that:
When asked “Why do they try and do that?” he replied that “Erm,
I’m not sure.”
“Gases, they try and fill whole room, they don’t, like
liquids, they stay at the bottom of the container, but gases go fill, do
everywhere and fill, try and fill the whole thing.”
I suggested some things that Peter might try, and asked “so when the gas
tries to fill the room, is it the same sort of thing, do we mean the same
sort of thing by the word 'try'?” Peter appreciated the difference, and recanted
the use of ‘try’:
However, it soon became clear that Peter’s use of the term came easily,
despite accepting that it was misleading
"No, I think I phrased that wrong, I meant that it fills
the whole area, 'cause it can expand."
Peter had only learn about particles recently in science, but seemed
to have already developed a habitual way of talking about them as conscious
agents that strived to fill rooms, escape bottles, and take up the shape
of containers. To some extent this is surely a lack of familiarity with objects
that can have inherent motion without having and external cause (like a projectile)
or internal purposes (like animals) and/or having a suitable language for
talking about the world of molecular level particles (‘quanticles’).
Such habits may be harmless, but it is a concern if such habitual ways of
talking and thinking later come to stand for more scientific descriptions
and explanations of natural processes.
I: Okay. So it’s not, the gas does not come in and say,
‘hm, I think I’ll fill the whole room’, and try and do it?
Peter: No, it just does it.
I: It just does it?
Peter: It tries to get out of everywhere, so if
you put it in the bottle, it would be trying to get out.
I: …are there particles in other things?:
Peter: liquids, yeah there is particles in everything, but liquids
the particles move quite a lot because, well they have, oh we did this this
[most recent] lesson, erm, they have energy to move, so they try
and move away, but their particles are quite close together.
I: What about the gases?
Peter: The gases, their particles try to stay as
far away from each other as possible.
I: Why is that? Don’t they like each other?
Peter: No, it’s because they are trying to spread
out into the whole room.
I: …and you said that liquids contain particles? Did you say they
move, what did you say about the particles in liquids?
Peter: er, they’re quite, they’re further apart, than the ones
in erm solids, so they erm, they try and take the shape, they
move away, but the volume of the water doesn’t change. It just moves.
I: What about the particles in the gas?
Peter: The gas, they’re really, they’re far apart and they try