A framework for defining scientific concepts in science education

Chee Leong Wong, Hye-Eun Chu*, Kueh Chin Yap

*Corresponding author for this work

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In several studies, it was observed that science teachers and students were unable to provide adequate definitions of scientific concepts. Currently, it may not seem possible to have a general framework that guides scientists and textbook writers to define scientific concepts. Moreover, it is unlikely that all scientists will agree on a single framework that covers all aspects of definitions for scientific concepts. Educational researchers have also recognized the problems of inadequate theoretical definitions that complicate the learning of these concepts. The aim of this article is to provide a framework for analyzing and defining scientific concepts for the purposes of science education. First, we propose that there are five common features of a definition: object/system, nature/characteristics, cause/effect, mathematical expression/equation, and condition/ reference frame. Second, we propose that four considerations should be kept in mind when defining scientific concepts: ‘comprehensiveness,’ ‘precision,’ ‘consistency,’ and ‘circularity.’ This framework is based on the identification of common definitional problems with scientific concepts, and can be used by teachers for analyzing scientific concepts for classroom learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615–644
Number of pages30
JournalAsia-Pacific science education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • circularity
  • definition
  • framework
  • heat
  • weight


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