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Teaching and learning tricky topics
Teaching and learning tricky topics

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3 Categorising trickiness in tricky topics

In this section you will learn how to classify students’ problems in tricky topics according to why they are tricky.

Classification of any items into groups can be difficult as there are always different ways of looking at something, especially if there is not a clear definition to follow. You will find later that grouping problem examples into stumbling blocks is not a straight forward business either.

Look back at the ‘living things’ example, can you think of some of the problems that students might have in understanding the concept of ‘living’? Here are a few reasons why students may mistakenly think that these ‘non-living’ items are alive.

Table 3 Reasons for student errors
Non-living itemReason why students may think they are alive
Fire‘We talk about living flames. The flames dance around and fire crackles and uses oxygen to burn which is like food.’
Water‘Water flows and is made up of oxygen and hydrogen and it is forceful.’
Wind‘The wind moves and it can make things fall over. It often makes a lot of noise. It has force and carries particles with it.’

Some of these misunderstandings of living things may be due to a lack of underpinning knowledge in Biology or Chemistry, or they could stem from different cultural or spiritual beliefs. Other misunderstandings may be due to specific beliefs about how the world works which may have been held since early childhood. Students’ problems can be classified according to ‘why’ they don’t understand.