which the unit should be tied. The results of this effort will allow teachers and curriculum developers to see if a common conceptual basis exists for separate units of study. Making those underlying concepts explicit helps students construct a model for understanding that facilitates transfer.

It is also recommended that the work in each discipline be reviewed by a panel of disciplinary experts to identify consensus and contested areas. To the extent that there is a high level of agreement within a discipline about the organizing constructs as they apply to units of classroom study, the outcome of this research will be highly useful to those who design and evaluate curricula and to those who teach.

7. Identify and address preconceptions by field. The research reviewed in this volume makes the case that new learning is built on the foundation of existing knowledge and preconceived notions regarding the subject of study. Learning is enhanced when preconceived understandings are drawn out. When these are accurate, new knowledge can be directly tied to what is already known. And when they are inaccurate, students can be made aware of how their existing conceptions fall short and be provided with more robust alternatives. Teachers and curriculum developers can build learning experiences into curricula that challenge typical misconceptions, and that draw out and work with unpredictable preconceptions. Research by discipline and subject area is recommended:

  • To identify common preconceptions that students bring to the classroom at different levels of education.

  • To identify links that can be made between existing learner understandings and the disciplinary knowledge, when they are compatible.

  • To identify progressive learning sequences that would allow students to bridge naïve and mature understandings of the subject matter.

The research would be conducted independently for mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The research teams should combine disciplinary experts with cognitive scientists, expert teachers, and curriculum developers. The range of topics covered in each disciplinary area should allow for exploration of the key concepts in the field as they arise in commonly covered course topics in the K–12 curriculum.

In some disciplines (e.g., physics), substantial research has already been done to identify misconceptions. This project should build on those efforts but extend them by developing and testing strategies for working with preconceptions, providing tools and techniques for teachers to work with in the classroom.

The research, as envisioned, would involve several stages:

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