Teaching and learning tricky topics
Teaching and learning tricky topics

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Teaching and learning tricky topics

1.2 Identify threshold concepts in your subject

The following table lists a few of the threshold concepts that have been identified alongside examples of the types of misunderstandings students demonstrate:

Table 1 Threshold concepts

SubjectThreshold conceptStudent misunderstandings
Biology Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis as consumption

A product’s reaction to sunlight

Biology Evolutionary theory

Macro evolution

Timeframes in evolution

Transfer of genetic characters

Understanding nature of science

Chemistry Acids, bases and neutralisation

Describing neutralisation

Strength of acids

Chemistry Atoms and atomic structure

Atomicity

Chemical equilibrium

Chemical bonding

Intermolecular forces

Energy quantisation in atomic structure

Animism of atoms

Probability in atomic structure

Size of atoms

Structure/shape of atoms

Weight of atoms

Chemistry Ideal gas equations

Gas volume calculations

Pressure volume

Temperature relationship

Unfamiliarity with thermodynamics

Computing/ Technology Java programming

Boolean conditions

Iteration: loops or repeat, how often to iterate; starting value; what goes into a loop; while versus for loops

Selection

Understanding a problem

Writing a trace table

Computing/ TechnologyPolymorphism: Object oriented programmingInheritance, loose coupling and dynamic binding, abstraction, relationships
Physics Heat transferMathematical formalisation, equations, functions
Physics Magnetism

Charge distribution

Coulomb’s third law

Induction

Charge and electric field

Magnetic field

Magnetic force

Physics Potential differenceElectrons carry positive charge

Current is related to potential energy

Voltage and current are the same

Pure Maths Complex numbers

Real numbers

Imaginary numbers

Square root

Abstraction

MathsLimit

The limit of ratio sin ×/× is 1, as × tend to 0, suggesting 0/0 = 1

Limit as infinity

You may already know some threshold concepts in your subject area. In Activity 1 you will conduct a search which will help you to confirm the threshold concepts you know about or help you find some new ones.

Activity 1 Identify threshold concepts in your area

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Use a search engine such as Google Scholar [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] to search for literature on threshold concepts in your subject area. Find four examples of threshold concepts then make a note of the threshold concepts and related student misunderstandings in the table below.

Table 2 Examples of threshold concepts

Your subject area:
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Threshold conceptStudent misunderstandings
1
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2
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3
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