GeoEduc Prof. Dr. Sibylle Reinfried
World in your hand




Analysing Students’ Conceptual Structures Using Fine-Grained Methods of Analyses

This qualitative explorative study examines the influence of intuitive knowledge elements and mechanistic thinking during knowledge construction. The theoretical basis of this research is the conceptual change approach of Knowledge in Pieces (KIP) by Andrea diSessa. The construct of intuitive knowledge elements called phenomenological primitives (p-prims) and explanatory primitives (e-prims) play a central role in the KIP approach. These primitives are parts of locally coherent conceptual structures. The transfer of an activated conceptual structure generated as an explanation for a phenomenon to another phenomenon can be understood as conceptual development. Internal evaluation processes that are used by the individual to evaluate what counts as a good (plausible) explanation play a major role in this process. The explanation does not have to be in agreement with a normative explanation.

The aims of this research are

  • to find intuitive knowledge elements (primitives), evidence of mechanistic thinking and individual frames of interpretations in the students’ utterances that can be used to describe the conceptual structures of their explanations.
  • to analyse whether validity preferences related to the discovered factors can be used to explain the students’ conviction in certain explanations.

The data re-analysed in this study was generated in the context of the project ‘Freshwater Springs and Mountain Hydrology’ (Reinfried et al., 2013).

Reinfried, S. (2016). Warum subjektive Erklärungen von geographischen Phänomenen Sinn machen - ein Blick in die Denkprozesse eines Schülers. In Otto, K.H. (Hrsg.), Geographie und naturwissenschaftliche Bildung - Der Beitrag des Faches für die Schule, Lernlabor und Hochschule. Geographiedidaktische Forschungen, Bd. 63, S. 124-138. Münster: HGD.
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Reinfried, S., Aeschbacher, U., Kienzler, P. M., & Tempelmann, S. (2013). Mit einer didaktisch rekonstruierten Lernumgebung Lernerfolge erzielen – das Beispiel Wasserquellen und Gebirgshydrologie. Zeitschrift für Didaktik der Naturwissenschaften, 19, 261-288.
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Educational Project ‚Climate change and climate politics CCESO’

The educational project ‚Climate change and climate politics (CCESO – Climate Change Education and Science Outreach)’ compiles basic information and fields of experiences related to the issues of climate change and climate politics related to all levels of K12 schooling on behalf of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment. In this project, the Universities of Education in Lucerne (Sibylle Reinfried), Berne (Marco Adamina, Matthias Probst) and Vaud (Philippe Hertig) as well as the Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research of the University of Berne are involved. The project is being coordinated by GLOBE Switzerland.

The following issues are being investigated in this project:

  • Analysis of the technical and educational publications related to the topics of climate change, climate politics and climate protection on all levels of K12 schooling (including textbooks and publications related to teaching)
  • Analysis of teaching and learning experiences related to climate change, climate politics and climate protection on all K12 levels (questioning of teachers and pupils).
  • Development of a multilevel educational concept for K12 concerning climate change (basic information, reasons, consequences, adaption and adjustment, climate politics and climate protection).
  • Elaboration of a concept for exemplary learning opportunities concerning the topics cited above.
  • Development and practical testing of learning opportunities for all school levels.


Adamina, M., Hertig, Ph., Probst, M., Reinfried, S. & Stucki, P. (2018). Klimabildung in allen Zyklen der Volksschule und in der Sekundarstufe II. Schlussbericht Projektphase CCESO I 2016/2017 (vollständige Fassung). Bern: Globe Schweiz.

Reinfried, S., Probst, M., Adamina, M., Hertig, Ph. & Stucki, P. (2018). Klimabildung in allen Zyklen der Volksschule und in der Sekundarstufe II. Zusammenfassung der CCESO-Projektphase I 2016/2017. Bern: Globe Schweiz.

Changing Students' Personal Ideas of Freshwater Springs and Mountain Hydrology

This research project investigated students' personal ideas about freshwater springs in the Swiss Alps. The students' personal ideas were then taken into account for the development of a learning environment designed according to the principles of constructivist learning theory which aimed at the conceptual change of the students’ preconceptions. The efficacy of the learning environment in terms of its adequacy to inducting a change of the students' preconceptions was assessed. The results of a quantitative analysis regarding the students’ learning gains showed that the students’ changed their prior conceptions substantially. The change remained persistent on a high level over seven weeks. The analysis of the knowledge construction processes of ten students showed that the improvement of their understanding of hillslope springs depends greatly on their prior knowledge. The analysis of the qualitative data, which where available in the form of individual learning paths analyses, indicated that motivational factors besides cognitive factors play an important role in conceptual change. The project was funded by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF 13DPD3_134724/1) and the University of Teacher Education Lucerne.


Reinfried S. (2015). Der Einfluss motivationaler Faktoren auf die Konstruktion hydrologischen Wissens – eine Analyse individueller Lernpfade. Zeitschrift für Geographiedidaktik (ZGD), 43(2), 107-138.
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Reinfried, S., Aeschbacher, U., Kienzler, P. M. & Tempelmann, S. (2015). The model of educational reconstruction – a powerful strategy to teach for conceptual development in physical geography: The case of water springs. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 24(3), 237-257,

Reinfried, S. & Aeschbacher, U. (2013). Wo das Quellwasser herkommt: "Tiefenstrukturen" im Berginneren. Beiträge zur Lehrerbildung. Fachdidaktik - Überlegungen und Standpunkte. H. 1, 2013, 93-99.

Reinfried, S., Tempelmann, S. & Aeschbacher, U. (2012): Addressing secondary school students’ everyday ideas about freshwater springs in order to develop an instructional tool to promote conceptual reconstruction. Hydrology and Earth System Science, 16, 1365-1377.

Freshwater Springs and Alpine Hydrology

The project aimed at developing a learning environment based on the findings of educational psychology concerning teaching and learning. The learning environment will allow teaching knowledge regarding freshwater springs in an easy comprehensible and vivid way and thus contribute to education for sustainable development. This project originates in the Swiss Mountain Water Award by the Netzwerk Wasser im Berggebiet (Mountain Water Net) awarded to Prof. Dr. Sibylle Reinfried (PHZ Luzern) and Dr. Simon Scherrer und Dr. Peter Kienzler (Scherrer AG, in July 2010. The learning environment served as a basis for the follow-up research project concerning freshwater springs described above.

Geoscience Concepts And Conceptual Change (GeoConcepts)

GeoConcepts II: Conceptual Development of Mental Models in the Geosciences and Geography
The learning environment developed in the project GeoConcepts I (see below) causes evidence-based changes of erroneous alternative conceptions concerning the greenhouse effect and global warming, but does not provide information about learners’ learning pathways. In this follow-up study teaching experiments and videotaped co-construction processes are used to analyze students’ mental model construction processes. The project was financed by the Funds of the Board of Directors of the University of Teacher Education of Central Switzerland.

GeoConcepts I:
Changing Students’ Alternative Conceptions about the Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming
The Project GeoConcepts I researched the question how persistent alternative conceptions of students can be changed through education. Such an alternative conception is for example the idea that a hole in the atmosphere, i.e. the ozone hole, is the reason for the greenhouse effect and global warming. This conception impedes the understanding of the real causes of global warming, namely the anthropogenic produced carbon dioxide. A team of geoscientists, geographers, physicists and psychologists developed a learning environment that aimed at overcoming the specific learning difficulties related to the greenhouse effect principle and inducing a conceptual change. In an efficacy study the learning environment proved to initiate a lasting conceptional change and development. The project was financed by the Funds of the Board of Directors of the University of Teacher Education of Central Switzerland.


Reinfried, S. & Tempelmann, S. (2014): The Impact of Secondary School Students' Preconceptions on the Evolution of their Mental Models of the Greenhouse effect and Global Warming, International Journal of Science Education, 36(2), 304-33

Reinfried, S., Aeschbacher, U. & Rottermann, B. (2012): Improving students’ conceptual understanding of the greenhouse effect using theory-based learning materials that promote deep learning. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 21(2), 155-178.

Reinfried, S., Rottermann, B., Aeschbacher U. & Huber, E. (2010). Alltagsvorstellungen über den Treibhauseffekt und die globale Erwärmung verändern – eine Voraussetzung für Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Bildungswissenschaften, 32(2), 251-271.

Reinfried, S., Aeschbacher, U., Huber, E. & Rottermann, B. (2010). Den Treibhauseffekt zeigen und erklären. In S. Reinfried, S. (Hrsg.), Schülervorstellungen und geographisches Lernen. Aktuelle Conceptual Change-Forschung und Stand der theoretischen Diskussion. S. 123-156. Logos Verlag Berlin.

Reinfried, S., Rottermann, B., Aeschbacher, U. & Huber, E. (2010). Wirksamkeit einer lernpsychologisch optimierten Lernumgebung auf die Veränderungen von Schülervorstellungen über den Treibhauseffekt und die globale Erwärmung – eine Pilotstudie. Geographie und ihre Didaktik, 38(4), 205-226.

Reinfried, S., Schuler, S., Aeschbacher, U. & Huber, E. (2008). Der Treibhauseffekt - Folge eines Lochs in der Atmosphäre? Wie Schüler sich ihre Alltagsvorstellungen bewusst machen und sie verändern können. Geographie heute, 265, 24-33.

The Ludwigsburg-Lucerne Bibliography

The Ludwigsburg-Lucerne Bibliography on Conceptual Change Research in the Geosciences - A Project to Establish a Comprehensive Collection of International Research Papers in the Field (LLGB)
In 2005 Prof. Dr. Sibylle Reinfried (PHZ Lucerne) and Dr. Stephan Schuler (PH Ludwigsburg) started to compile a bibliography on research about alternative conceptions in geography and the geosciences. The bibliography documents publications on conceptual frameworks and conceptual change in the geosciences and is work in progress. It is a valuable source of information facilitating the access to the relevant research papers. Till now more then 500 references concerning empirical investigations and theoretical considerations about students’ and teachers’ conceptual frameworks and conceptual change as well as research on teaching and learning related to conceptual change in the geosciences were compiled. The project is financed by the University of Teacher Education Central Switzerland Lucerne and the University of Education Ludwigsburg. The bibliography can be downloaded at

Reinfried, S. & Schuler S. (2009). Die Ludwigsburg-Luzerner Bibliographie zur Alltagsvorstellungsforschung in den Geowissenschaften – ein Projekt zur Erfassung der internationalen Forschungsliteratur. Geographie und ihre Didaktik, 37(3), 120-135.


Educational Reconstruction of Crucial Geoscience and Geogaphical Concepts – A Way to Change Alternative Conceptions in Geography
This long-term study analyses students’ alternative conceptions about geoscience and geographical conceptions and the inter-relations of geoscience systems. Based on these findings we develop learning environments that aim at conceptual changes and conceptual development. These learning environments are developed on the basis of the model of educational reconstruction according to Kattmann et al. 1997. Their usefulness and practicability ist tested in classroom settings. The project is financed by the University of Teacher Education Central Switzerland Lucerne.


Reinfried, S. (2015). Der Einfluss des Vorwissens auf geographisches Lernen. GeoAgenda H. 4, S. 22-25.
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Reinfried, S., Aeschbacher, U., Kienzler, P. M. & Tempelmann, S. (2013). Mit einer didaktisch rekonstruierten Lernumgebung Lernerfolge erzielen – das Beispiel Wasserquellen und Gebirgshydrologie. Zeitschrift für Didaktik der Naturwissenschaften, Jg. 19, 261-288.

Reinfried, S., Mathis, C. & Kattmann, U. (2009). Das Modell der Didaktischen Rekonstruktion - eine innovative Methode zur fachdidaktischen Erforschung und Entwicklung von Unterricht. Beiträge zur Lehrerbildung, 27(3), 404-414.

Reinfried, S. (2006). Conceptual change in pysical geography and environmental sciences through mental model building – the example of groundwater. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 15(1), S. 41-61.

Reinfried, S. (2006). Alltagsvorstellungen – und wie man sie verändern kann. Das Beispiel Grundwasser. geographie heute, 243/244; 38-43.