Concepts vs. Facts

A concept is an abstract idea generalized from particular evidence; a fact is something that is known to be true, or a thing that is indisputably the case. To compare, a concept is something that can be understood, and a fact is something that is usually memorized.

In my upcoming science unit, The Sun, Moon, and Earth, I will attempt to teach my 3rd grade students a variety of concepts and facts pertaining to our planet, the sun, and our moon. In this unit, like many other units I teach, the facts will be difficult to memorize without the concept that is behind the thing being memorized. Just like I cannot insist that my students memorize the multiplication and division facts without first understanding the concept of repeating something a number of times (multiplication) or taking something apart a number of times (division). Similarly, it would not make sense for me to teach my students to understand any order of fractions without first teaching them the concept of “equal parts” or “part to whole.”

Like Jerome Bruner, I recognize that memorizing lists of information is not good for a child, since he will “use it in a single situation and possibly not even effectively then” (Bruner, 1996). If a child understands the concept of the moon revolving around the Earth, only then can I begin to teach her the nine phases of the moon and why they are important. Teaching the concept of revolution can be done through the Concept Attainment Model, which will require my students to figure out the attributes of a category (in this case, “revolving/going around another object”) that is already formed and connecting it to another idea by comparing and contrasting it. I could use examples of day-to-day ideas that they already know, such as the game Helicopter that they play at recess, thus increasing the chance for them to make connections to the concept. Once they understand the concept of revolution, I would then begin to teach them the facts associated with the concept, such as how many days it takes for the moon to revolve around the earth, and, more importantly, the moon phases and their names. When teaching those, I would employ a mnemonic that would help them understand such terms as “Waxing” and “Waning” that will help them understand the facts, as well as the order of the moon phases. Furthermore, the concepts of day and night, shadows, seasons, rotation, time zones, and the layers of the Earth must first be understood as an idea before I present the facts such as how long one rotation is or what a mantle is in relation to the Earth.

In summary, facts and concepts have a close relationship, as the facts cannot be fully mastered, retained, and memorized effectively without first understanding the concept that explains it.

Resources:

Bruner, J.S. (1996). The Culture of Education. “Some Elements of Discovery.”

Joyce, B., Weil, M., Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching. Boston: Pearson Education. Ed. 9.

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