Threshold Concepts and the space in between: applying research to everyday practice
Threshold Concepts have been described as “portals” to a new, deeper and transformed understanding. They trigger the lightbulb moments that as teachers, we find so precious and rewarding to observe, but which can be so rare and hard fought. Meyer and Land (2003) define them as transformative, (probably) irreversible and troublesome. Most importantly from the point of view of a teacher, they are often tacit among experts, and we therefore might not think to teach them explicitly. Cousin (2006) also talks about the difficulty of putting yourself in a novice’s shoes, and remembering the ideas that you once struggled with.
I wanted to identify the stumbling blocks in KS4 Structure and Bonding that hold students back from developing a deeper understanding. Using misconceptions literature, I identified and compiled a list of tricky concepts, and aimed to pinpoint the true threshold concepts via teaching and assessment.
I hope to demonstrate how you can integrate research ideas into everyday practice without significantly veering off-piste or adding to workload. By analysing students’ conceptual understanding via my usual class and homework activities, I was able to to identify “hurdles” and “bottlenecks” that prevent students fully understanding a topic, and some potential threshold concepts.
Niki Kaiser is a Chemistry teacher and Research Lead at a mixed comprehensive school in Norwich, and has been teaching for about 11 years. Prior to this, she worked as a post-doctoral researcher in Marine Biogeochemistry, crossing the Equator multiple times as she investigated ocean-atmospheric interactions. She is particularly interested in finding ways of applying educational research evidence within the classroom, and blogs regularly about Teaching and Learning. Recently, Niki has been looking at Threshold Concepts, and ways of using cognitive science to help students overcome troublesome hurdles in Chemistry.