Topics and concepts explained
Science topics are themes or areas of interest – like bees or volcanoes – that are regularly taught as units of study. Science concepts are the big ideas in science. For example, the topic of volcanoes is underpinned by science concepts that include tectonic plates, waves, energy, and force and movement.
Understanding science concepts is key to understanding how the natural world works. We can think of topics as the context for learning these concepts. For example, if the objective is to teach about forces, we can use volcanoes, rockets, bicycles and the human body as the contexts. The concept – how a push or pull causes an object to change its shape, direction and/or motion – can be experienced via a tectonic sandwich, a balloon car or pinching a clothes peg.
Student understanding of concepts tends to build in sequence and become more fully developed over time. Repeated experiences with concepts, via a number of topics or contexts, enables students to consolidate this knowledge and understanding. By having an awareness of the underlying concepts, educators can scaffold student understanding while engaging learners in topics of interest.
We’ve added new functions to the Science Learning Hub that make related topics and concepts much more visible for our users. There’s a Related topics & concepts tab under the title of our articles and activities. (Media items automatically use the same topics and concepts from the content they appear in.) Clicking this tab will display many of the concepts that underpin the science featured in the resource as well as topics that can be used for further investigations. Users can select a concept or a topic from this view, which will go directly to the curated collections of resources.
Each of the broad topic and concept curations also has a Related topics & concepts tab to show other connections on the Hub.
Building Science Concepts series
The New Zealand Ministry of Education’s Building Science Concepts (BSC) series presents sets of interlinking concepts that build stage by stage towards ‘big ideas’ in science. The Hub has produced partial replications of BSC books along with background information to check and support teacher understanding and activities to build student understanding.
- Building Science Concepts: Birds
- Building Science Concepts: Exploring sound
- Building Science Concepts: Life between the tides
- Building Science Concepts: Rubbish
- Building Science Concepts: Shadows
- Building Science Concepts: The air around us
- Building Science Concepts: Tidal communities
The interactive maps in each article include overarching science concepts for the topic and the sequential steps students are likely to take as their science knowledge progresses. Regardless of the topic, it may be worthwhile for educators to view one or more of the maps to see how student understanding develops over time.
On the Meaning of Concepts in Science Education is an editorial by Kostas Kampourakis. It explores issues regarding science concepts along with recommendations to ensure conceptual understanding.