ResearchED: session 4

Dr Niki Kaiser on threshold concepts. 

Niki is a chemistry teacher and network research lead. She relates a lesson on ionic bonding where she identified a misconception she was unaware of and how happy the subsequent student lightbulb moment made her. 

Niki explains that a threshold concept is described as a portal to transformed learning. You move through it to greater understanding and this is irreversible, making accessible previously out of reach concepts and ideas. To model this, Niki breaks down the different concepts students need to understand ionic bonding. She says Meyer and Land (2003) differentiate between core and threshold concepts and explains her identified bottleneck in understanding ionic bonding. It is tricky for us as experts to put ourselves in the shoes of novices and identify the trouble spots. 

There isn’t a great deal of research on threshold concepts, but Twitter suggested looking at the misconceptions literature and extrapolating from that. Planning a unit on structure and bonding, Niki used a tracker to help her to identify student trouble spots. 

Niki then spoke about her own research, modelling that there are many different ways of going about researching. I lost the thread a bit here (sorry Niki. Sorry readers)

Having identified tricky spots in the learning, Niki revisited them, a la spaced practice, and used Google forms to gather confidence scores from her pupils, to see which ideas they were finding most difficult. She compared the confidence scores with marks from tests on different topics within the course, and this data combined to helpfully show which the most troublesome areas were. 

I like threshold concepts (you might remember) and this was a really good session about how to research among your classes to identify new ones. This is much more scientific than my method, ‘Thinking about it on public transport’. It is also interesting to think about threshold concepts, not just in general historical understanding, but in individual topics. 

Niki’s ppt –

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