A Conceptual Understanding Procedure, or CUP, is a teaching procedure designed to aid development of understanding of concepts that students find difficult. They have been developed in a physics context but could be equally designed for other areas of study such as chemistry, mathematics or biology.
They are constructivist in approach, i.e.they are based on the belief that students construct their own understanding of concepts by expanding or modifying their existing views. The procedure also reinforces the value of cooperative learning and encouragesthe individual student to play ís an active role in their own learning.
CUPs are set in real-world rather than idealised situations. For example, in the study of motion, students are expected to qualitativelyconsider the friction between objects moving relative to one another, air resistance, and energy losses to the surroundings, etc. rather than assume they are working in an idealised situation that models friction as negligible. CUPs were developed in 1996 by Pam Mulhalland Brian McKittrickfrom the Faculty of Education, and David Millsand Susan Feterisof the Department of Physics, (now School of Physics) at Monash University).
Master copies of both A4 and A3 sheets are provided in Adobe Acrobat format. (The Acrobat Reader is available free on the Web.) These are suitable for senior high school and first year university/college.
|Title||Worksheet Master||Concepts targeted|
|1. Driving to Hilary's||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||Displacement, velocity and acceleration in 1-D.|
|2. Throwing a hockey ball||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||Velocity and acceleration during vertical flight.|
|3. Hitting a golf ball||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||Action/reaction pairs (Newton's third law). Dependence of motion on net force.|
|4. Dropping a golf ball and a foam ball||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||Forces acting on falling objects.|
|5. Forces on a can of peaches||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||Forces on an object resting on a surface.|
|6. Swinging the billy can||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||Forces on an object moving in a vertical circle.|
|7. Rudolph's trouble with Newton's third law||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||The motion of an object depends on the net force on the object.|
|8. Hot stuff||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||Heating and temperature change.|
|9. What is the current?||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||The current in basic series and parallel circuits.|
|10. What is the reading on the voltmeter?||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||The potential difference voltage between points in basic series and parallel circuits.|
|11. Energy of a soccer ball in flight||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||Conservation of energy.|
|12. Momentum and in to traffic accidents||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||Conservation of momentum.|
|13. Where did the light go?||A4 sheet, A3 sheet||Reflection and refraction at an interface|
The procedure involves students exploring a qualitative question requiring an answer in a diagrammatic form. It has three distinct stages:
The links below have been designed to address this question
Most teachers find the third stage, the interpretive discussion, to be the most challenging. You need to facilitate the student discussion of the understandings shown on the A3 sheets rather than simplytelling them the scientific view. The potential for developing a strong conceptual understanding is more likely to be realised when students have had a chance to grapple with the range of ideas in the class. This requiresthe teacher to relinquish familiar techniques of leading students straight to the accepted scientific view by word or even body language.
A second challenging stage occurs when you put up all the A3s and wonder “What I am going to do with such a range of ideas?” Two suggestions:
In such a case, students will probably leave the class dissatisfied unless you provide some reassurance. Summarise the stage reached, e.g. “We haven’t reached agreement.That’s OK. You’re at the stage where four groups think … and the other groups think … Think a bit more about it before our next class, where we’ll complete the discussion.”
As designers of CUPs, we have never heard of a whole classreaching an incorrect consensus, though of course it is possible. In that case, rather than just telling the class they’re wrong and giving them the accepted scientific view, you may need to devise otherstrategies, e.g.
Some examples of approaches you could use to help them continue to think about their understanding of the situation:
Some more timid students will. Teachers using CUPs report this occurs much less than they expected, probably due to the students supporting the ideas of their group, not just their own. Also it is important to encourage an atmosphereof trust where all contributions are listened to and respected with you, as teacher, setting the example here.
It is essential that students have time aloneto consider their understanding of the situation presented so that subsequent learning addresses their initial conceptions.
While CUPs employ valuable learning procedures that you probably use on other occasions, it is envisaged that CUPs would be used only occasionally, as they take 50 to 60 minutes normally. However, teachers using CUPs tend to say the time is well spent as the students modify many incorrect conceptions. The majority find theexercise challenging and enjoyable.
Research suggests that three is the optimum size for effective, engaged small-group discussion. Where the class size is not a multiple of three, four is preferable to two. Researchers also found that involvement increases when the group is of mixed ability and for female students where there are at least two female students in the triplet group.
These quotes were gathered during research into the use of CUPs at senior high school and first year university level. T indicates teachers and S students.
S: Normally when we get asked something most people don’t think about it. They just say “We don’t know” and you just get told by the teacher, but in CUPs you’ve got time to think about it.
T: One of the best parts to the CUP format was that the students had time to sit down individually and sort out what they were thinking before I led them to a discussion, and that allowed real insight.
S: If we were just one big group then I’m sure some people just wouldn’t say anything. With the triplets you had to say something.
S: When you were in the whole-class discussion it’s not intimidating because it’s not just you because it’s a combined opinion on your A3.
T: I reckon you get a really good insight into what they’re thinking. … All sorts of kids [contributing] that don’t normally… It’s quite a non-threatening sort of process.
T: Normal class discussion is just one way. You’re directing it whereas this way they’re telling you what they really think.
T: I don’t think it hurts to have a touch of confusion. You often learn best, don’t you, when you realise there’s something not quite right here!
S: Everyone usually got their say about what they thought was right … You had to understand it a bit better to be able to answer questions people asked you.
S: Yeah, you had to actually thinkin class (laughs)!
S: That’s the hardest I’ve had to think in any subject this year [this was two-thirds through the academic year] and it was great.
S: You get different ideas. … Whereas if you just get told it and write it down … you feel “Yeah, sure, whatever.”
T: You actually got to hear what the kids were thinking, whereas in a normal class discussion you leap on the first person that says something right, whereas in this you heard all those misconceptions. I found it really valuable to hear those things that they were thinking that I’d forgotten they would think, because I don’t think like that any more.
T: Seeing them get that passionate about a discussion in physics was good.
T: There was a sort of intimacy in the whole-class discussion. All the different [students contributing] … and obviously not threatened about it, and also enjoying it.
T: The second CUP was easier because they knew there wasn’t going to be that embarrassing feeling of “I’m going to be put on the spot; I’m going to be laughed at.”
T: For me the CUPs were very important in a formative sense of trying to … determine where … the greatest needs lie and how … to adjust my classes overthe next few weeks to address some of those needs. And … recognising where the shortfalls were in … kids’ understanding of problems.
T: I was delighted, absolutely delighted! At recess they were still going, no one moved.
T: At the end of the class they did not want to leave until they had the right answer.
T: Not telling them the right answer!
T: Thinking on your feet when you put all the A3 sheets up, “What am I going to do with all this variation?”
T: [From using CUPs] I became very much more aware that normally you’re forcing your agenda on the kids, so ou’ve got to try to avoid that, that’s the hardest thing.
For further informationabout CUPs contact Pam Mulhall.