A Conceptual Change Approach for Teaching Matter to Sixth Grade Students: Integrating Activities, Experiments, Writing Responses and Verbal Discussion into the Classroom

Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Carol Smith


Many middle school curricula today need supplemental lessons to really encourage the kind of critical thinking which promotes conceptual change. In this paper, I discuss why such supplemental materials are necessary, and then draw from multiple sources in devising such materials for a unit plan on matter. Teaching this concept to sixth grade science students is extremely challenging. Upon entering a science classroom, they already have theories, often misconceptions, based on their own life experiences. This paper begins by reviewing the research which supports a conceptual change approach to teaching as the most effective method. It also discusses the central role of metacognition and writing in such a process. Using these ideas as guides, I then discuss the limitations of the current matter curriculum used in my district. Next I propose a revised way of teaching this topic which builds on ideas developed by other researchers such as Smith and colleagues (1994, 1997) and Hennessey (1994). Finally, I combine them with a writing process, proposed by Collins (1992), as an assessment tool. The goal of the revised curriculum is to teach students how to develop the skill of scientific inquiry. It calls for group discussions before, during and after classroom activities. Through a diverse set of activities, experiments, models, writing assignments and class discussions, students design their own experiments which they then perform in class. They pose questions, or problems, create hypotheses, and then test those hypotheses on their own. They are encouraged to reflect on their thoughts about how an experiment worked, gather results and then redesign and test it again. The paper concludes by discussing how I could evaluate the success of my proposed curriculum. A sixth grade class would be taught about matter through "traditional" teaching methods, another would learn the same unit through my newly proposed curriculum. Pre and post writing assignments in both classes would be reviewed to determine what conceptual changes took place in students' thinking about matter. I feel confident that the results of both would support my curriculum as an effective method of teaching.


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