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Observing conceptual change in science students

Media release

An internationally renowned Curtin University science education researcher is assisting West Australian high school teachers to document their teaching to help students build better scientific understanding.

Professor David Treagust, of Curtin’s Science and Mathematics Education Centre, is observing nine secondary school teachers across Padbury and Rossmoyne senior high schools, Guildford Grammar and Penrhos College, to see how they use diagrams in the classroom to explain scientific phenomena to students.

“I am interested in how students best learn science, so my research over many years has looked at ways that teachers can optimise their teaching to accomplish this,” Professor Treagust said.

“In this study, we are interested in how and when students change their naive conceptions to more scientific ones following instruction. Students may have an alternative conception about many phenomena, such as how plants grow or how salt dissolves in water.

“When they learn the science surrounding such everyday phenomena, students get interested and motivated to provide explanations. We are working with the science teachers to try to assist students’ understanding to be more scientifically accurate.”

Professor Treagust said the study, funded with a $130,000 Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project scheme grant, would involve observing teachers’ use of scientific diagrams, including charts and graphs, in normal lessons. Students would later be interviewed to see how they best made sense of the diagrams in their learning.

“From the teachers we observe we hope to provide a teaching framework that optimises use of scientific diagrams for student understanding,” he said.

“We are also interested in how well students make sense of these diagrams with and without associated text, as well as the use of multiple representations, analogies and models to help them understand abstract concepts.”

Professor Treagust and his research team, including Curtin research associates, Dr Mihye Won and PhD student, Yang Liu, will present their findings at future national science teachers’ conferences and offer workshops to teachers through the Science Teachers’ Association of Western Australia. Later, they will also present their findings to science education researchers at national and international conferences.

Professor Treagust is the only Australian to win the American Chemical Society (ACS) award for Achievement in Research for the Teaching and Learning of Chemistry, awarded recently for his investigations of students’ understanding of chemistry content knowledge and chemistry instructors’ methods of teaching chemistry.

He was recognised by the ACS for identifying learning difficulties in a wide range of conceptual areas and elucidating the role of multiple representations in effective teaching and learning chemistry concepts.

Professor Treagust’s research papers have been highly influential in shaping the way chemistry is now taught across the world.


Professor David Treagust, Science and Mathematics Education Centre, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 7924, Email:

Andrea Barnard, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 4241, Email: