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Torney-Purta, Judith. “Dimensions of Adolescents’ Reasoning about Historical Issues: Ontological Switches, Developmental Processes, and Situated Learning.” In Cognitive and Instructional Processes in History and the Social Sciences, edited by James F. Voss and Mario Carretero, 103–22. Hillsdale: Erlbaum, 1994.


This study focuses on two questions: 1) “What is conceptual change in the social and political domain of knowledge dealing with contemporary political events and with historical events?” and 2) “What is important about developmental processes as they intersect with instructional processes to influence conceptual change in this domain?” Answers to these questions were derived from problem solving tasks and concept mapping tasks conducted with fourteen to seventeen year old students in Project ICONS and with twelve to fourteen year old students participating in educational activities in the classroom organized in conjunction with a museum exhibit.

Novice history learners distinguish important from non-important information based on how often the teacher mentions the event and/or person. Torney-Purta concludes that the processing of everyday experiences plays a significant role in students’ understanding of history. Further, based on the results from the data collection the author suggests that teachers tailor their history instruction to students’ prior knowledge. Lastly, the results indicate that active participation in the classroom is not enough: students must have opportunities to discuss historical issues with each other and participate in developing individual and unique projects and activities in order to promote conceptual change.

Ana Laura Pauchulo