Read this article if….you are a concept geek who just loves…well…concepts…

I recently wrote about threshold concepts in this post. As stated in the article, threshold concepts are often troublesome for learners. However, they have the potential to be so transformative in their understanding of a discipline that they are worth the pain. Indeed, once understood, they are intellectually satisfying.

Talanquer (2015) suggests that the understanding of a threshold concept requires several cognitive components:

  1. Conceptual components – what facts and knowledge are needed to understand this threshold concept? What micro-concepts are needed in order to reach conceptual understandings that support the learning of this concept? These need to be built up and learnt so that an understanding of the concept can be reached. Chemistry example: In order to understand the threshold concept of atomicity, students need to know that atoms consist of protons and neutrons in a dense nucleus and electrons in the space surrounding the nucleus.
  2. Epistemological components – this is an understanding of how arguments and explanations are built in a discipline. Chemistry example: to fully understand the threshold concept of atomicity, Talanquer argues that learners need to understand the difference between models and reality. Further, they need to “Comprehend how experimental information about light-matter interactions can be used to build arguments and theoretical models of atomic structure, and understand that these models may change based on new experimental information”. You can read more about my thoughts on this here.
  3. Ontological components – according to Talanquer, this involves learners developing proper schemas that help them to think about the nature of the entities and processes in the systems under consideration and going even further, the relationships that exist between them. Chemistry example: again from the threshold concept of atomicity, Talanquer suggests that the statement “matter consists of atoms that have internal structures that dictate their chemical and physical behavior” will look very different to a student who views the atom as a solid object with rigid internal structures they will think very versus a student who views atoms as dynamic, interacting systems. This area is a major challenge and is the focus of this post

In upcoming articles, I will attempt to explore each of these components in much more detail!

Further reading:

Threshold concepts in chemistry: The critical role of implicit schemas – Vicente Talanquer, | J. Chem. Educ. 2015, 92, 3−9:

3 thoughts on “

  1. Hi Louie,

    This matters to us because ensuring that there’s a solid conceptual pathway through the understanding means that our students will be able to make links independently between the big overarching topics in Chemistry (and Science!). What I like here is that you haven’t undermined the importance of memorisation – I definitely agree that we need to build understanding from basic knowledge of key facts. It’s also mentioned here ( – a great article about depth of knowledge and ways to achieve that. For me this is the next step after building a great ‘story’ through any unit 🙂



  2. Pingback: Louie Barnett

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