Helping students understand challenging topics in science through ontology training

James D. Slotta, Michelene T.H. Chi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

184 Scopus citations


Chi (2005) proposed that students experience difficulty in learning about physics concepts such as light, heat, or electric current because they attribute to these concepts an inappropriate ontological status of material substances rather than the more veridical status of emergent processes. Conceptual change could thus be facilitated by training students in the appropriate ontology prior to physics instruction. We tested this prediction by developing a computer-based module whereby participants learned about emergent processes. Control participants completed a computer-based task that was uninformative with respect to ontology. Both groups then studied a physics text concerned with electricity, including explanations and a posttest. Verbal explanations and qualitative problem solutions revealed that experimental students gained a deeper understanding of electric current.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-289
Number of pages29
JournalCognition and Instruction
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychology(all)


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