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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 4 Knowledge and Understanding of the Natural World Major Findings in the Chapter: Children’s intuitive concepts of the natural world can be both resources and barriers to emerging understanding. These concepts can be enriched and transformed by appropriate classroom experiences. Changes in a student’s knowledge do not necessarily follow a linear improvement across grades, and an individual’s understanding can vary across contexts. Conceptual development can occur in many different ways. Some kinds of conceptual change occur naturally as a consequence of the child’s everyday experiences, whereas others require intentional effort, often by both a learner and a teacher. Major changes in conceptual frameworks are often difficult to make because they require learners to break out of their familiar frame and reorganize a body of knowledge, often in ways that draw on unfamiliar ideas. Such changes are facilitated by instruction that helps students construct an understanding of the new concepts, and provides opportunities for them to strengthen their understanding of the new ideas through extended application and argumentation. In this chapter we summarize research related to Strand 1: know, use, and interpret scientific knowledge of the natural world. We begin with a discussion of how children’s knowledge develops as they move through the K-8 years. We consider each of the knowledge domains identified in Chapter 3—physics, biology, psychology, chemistry, and earth sciences—and sketch
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 out how early understanding is extended and revised. In the second half of the chapter, we describe the process of conceptual change, considering the various ways changes can occur and how they can be facilitated. CHANGES IN CONCEPTUAL UNDERSTANDING DURING THE K-8 YEARS There is no magic line that divides children’s cognitive development before entering elementary school from their cognitive development after the onset of formal schooling. Children continue to refine their abilities to use information at various levels of abstraction and become ever more sophisticated at understanding the nature of good explanations, methods of inquiry, and the role of evidence. They also show substantial increases in the ability to explicitly talk about patterns and principles and realize their relevance across a wider and wider range of settings. In addition, they greatly expand their understandings of pathways to knowledge and how to navigate pathways in ways that exploit the greater expertise of specialists in various areas. All of these patterns of change during the elementary school years have their roots in preschool and earlier, but in many cases the changes greatly accelerate in older children. Explicit instruction and educational experiences in school and other settings clearly help foster many of these changes, but others should be understood as the continuation of processes that started long before school and that now also interact with those of formal education. In this section we very briefly provide examples of how children’s knowledge changes over the K-8 years, building on the knowledge they develop prior to school. We highlight three main ideas. First, there are some (positive) improvements in children’s understanding (e.g., increased knowledge, increased understanding of some mechanisms, increased understanding of relations among variables). Second, not all changes necessarily bring children closer to canonical scientific views. For example, children bring naïve conceptions about the natural world that differ from accepted scientific explanation (often referred to as misconceptions). Some of the naïve concepts are persistent and difficult to change. Others are transitory and appear to resolve themselves with time and experience. Third, there is considerable variability in the changes that occur. An individual’s understanding can vary across contexts. There is also variation among children when they attain certain understandings. This variation is likely to reflect differences in the kinds of previous educational opportunities or experiences they have had. The latter findings underscore that these changes do not just come for free with increasing age. It is important to emphasize that changes in knowledge during this period do not necessarily follow a pattern of linear improvement across
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 grades (Siegler, 1998). Instead, there are many twists and turns and misconceptions that develop along the way. In fact, growth can be difficult to gauge, as it sometime follows a U-shaped pattern, with apparent regressions or intermediate constructions developing as part of the process. In this context, misconceptions or wrong ideas are not necessarily a bad thing, nor are they necessarily a sign of a deeply held systematic alternative theory—some are highly context dependent and even quite transitory. However, they do reflect deeper conceptual difficulties, and understanding the reasons for those difficulties can be instructive. In some cases, misconceptions develop in part because of limited symbolic tools available to students or limitations in conceptual knowledge in other domains (e.g., having mathematics based on natural rather than rational number, having limitations in geometric understandings). Some misconceptions may stem from alternative ontological commitments that constrain children’s ideas. If children assume that an entity or relation belongs to a fundamentally different kind of thing, that assumption can derail attempts to link up their conceptual system with that of adults or older children. For example, if fire is thought of as a kind of stuff rather than a symptom of an event (combustion), that misattribution of fire to the wrong category (a substance instead of an event) can lead to dramatically different inferences about other properties of fires. More broadly, conceptual change may be more difficult when the child’s naïve conception assigns entities in a domain to a different ontological category than an adult’s conception assigns them (Chi, 2005). In contrast, if a young child initially misconceives an entity as a different sort of thing but in the same ontological category, then conceptual change may be much easier to achieve (Chi, 2005). For example, a child might initially think that germs are like small insects inside the body instead of knowing that they are a different kind of organism, but such a mistake makes the same ontological commitments and would be relatively easy for a child to surmount. Multiple factors contribute to the changes described in this section. Thus, we need to avoid the trap of looking for a single explanation for such diverse phenomena. Instead, we need to identify the range of important factors and explore how they contribute and interact with one another. Many of these factors may be primarily experiential in nature (rather than maturational in a strict biological sense), and there are a variety of ways that experience can contribute to growth. Even in the case of more maturationally based factors (such as increases in working memory, processing speed, capacity for attention, self-regulation, executive function), there is evidence for interactions with experiential factors in these developments as well. For example, many factors (knowledge, processing speed, strategies) affect measured short-term storage span of memory, and, although measured short-term storage span increases with age, many argue that short-term storage
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 capacity is not changing with age. In both children and adults, richer knowledge bases result in larger memory capacities (Chi, 1978). There is more evidence, however, for an underlying maturational component for changes in processing speed (although some aspects are also clearly affected by experience) (Kail, 1991; Luna et al., 2004; Travis, 1998). Extending and Changing Understandings of Naïve Physics Children’s understanding of the simple mechanics of bounded objects undergoes considerable change during the elementary school years. One area of dramatic change concerns an appreciation of how to interrelate variables that are concerned with trajectories, most notably, distance, speed, and duration. Many years ago, the Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, demonstrated confusions among these variables in young children (Piaget, 1946a, 1946b; Piaget and Inhelder, 1948), but only recently have more systematic studies documented the ways in which children come to make sense of each of these variables and their interrelations. Those studies now suggest that even young preschool children distinguish distance, speed, and time in some contexts (in contrast to Piaget’s claim that these notions are initially completely undifferentiated) (Acredelo, Adams, and Schmid, 1984; Matsuda, 1994, 2001; Wilkening, 1981). Some of the differences across tasks depend on what criteria children use in judging each task. Many of the tasks require them to use qualitative criteria (e.g., comparing starting and stopping times); some give them direct information in some symbolic form and examine their ability to integrate it (a clock that says 10 versus 20 seconds; a distance strip; two animals that are known to be fast or slow, like turtles and horses). Development here, however, does not occur in a vacuum. Consider the normal developmental progressions for children in two different cultures that vary in their approach to science and math education. Chinese third graders seem to have no difficulty reasoning about inverse relations, whereas American third graders often do; American fifth graders achieve performance more like Chinese third graders (Zhou et al., 2000). Although further research is needed to confirm the reliability of this difference and to understand its sources, it may reflect differences in the quality of early mathematics and science education. In China, in contrast to the United States, the skills of argument and proof are taught as early as the first grade and mathematics and science topics are pursued more deeply and thoroughly. In addition, the elementary teachers are more highly trained in the teaching of mathematics. Thus, although there is a clear age trend in learning to understand inverse relations, there can be dramatic differences in the age at which most children understand such relations as a function of educational and cultural
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 environment. The mechanisms behind such age differences are yet to be fully understood, but they make clear the folly of thinking that there are certain ages at which children can or cannot understand specific scientific concepts. And there is a continuing legacy of cognitive challenges in some areas. In more complex tasks, for example, college students have difficulties with inverse relations as well. There are also developmental lags in how children understand trajectories, with an understanding in terms of catching actions appearing much earlier than those in terms of predictions as more passive observers (Krist, Fieberg, and Wilkening, 1993; Huber, Krist, and Wilkening, 2003; Krist, 2003). In fact, explicit predictions about trajectories are often wrong even in adults (Clement, 1982; McCloskey, 1983). Indeed, in some cases, very young children actually seem to be better at anticipating trajectories, then get worse as they get older and develop a more consistent but incorrect “theory” of motion (Kaiser, McCloskey, and Profitt, 1986). Such U-shaped developmental curves have been documented repeatedly in children’s developing conceptions of mechanics (Karmiloff-Smith and Inhelder, 1974). Children also show substantial improvement during the elementary school years in detailed understanding of physical mechanisms. Consider, for example, research on changes in children’s understanding of gears. The mechanism is fully observable in these studies (a set of exposed gears), yet there is much that is not transparent to young children or even adults. One study that compared second and fifth graders showed how children can take an idea that is useful in one context and then overapply it to others (Lehrer and Schauble, 1998). Thus, a child might develop a hunch about gear function from playing with an egg beater and then inappropriately make some extensions to gears on a bicycle. More broadly, it can take years for elementary school children to start to understand systems like gears and levers in more formal terms that allow more correct generalizations across instances (Lehrer and Schauble, 1998). At the same time, children clearly benefit from core concepts that arise in infancy and the preschool years. For example, children of all ages insist that gears must make physical contact with each other in order to form a working system of gears. Children have great difficulties learning physicists’ notions of force. Students tend to associate forces with movement and do not recognize the action of forces in situations of equilibrium. They also tend to focus on forces as active agents and are less likely to recognize passive forces (e.g., they may think forces are needed more to start a motion than to stop one, hence have difficulty recognizing friction as a force). They also think of force as a property of objects rather than as a feature of interaction between two objects—so they identify forces singly, rather than in terms of interaction pairs. Finally, when two forces are acting on an object, they think of one as winning or overcoming the other, rather than interacting through
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 vector addition (Clement, 1982; diSessa, 1982). The developmental story seems to involve several distinct notions of force emerging at different times in childhood, with a final convergence on the physicists’ concept usually occurring only in those lucky few who actually get insight from a collegelevel physics course instead of continuing to cling to developmentally earlier views (Ioannides and Vosniadou, 2002; Watts and Zylberstajn, 1981). There are many other misconceptions that develop in childhood and often persist into adulthood without appropriate instruction. These include mistaken beliefs about relations between air pressure and gravity (Minstrell, 1982), confusions between momentum and force (diSessa, 1988), and difficulties in understanding magnetism (Barrow, 1987), among many others. As mentioned earlier, misconceptions should be seen as attempts by children to make sense of the world around them, often building on more correct notions that also coexist with the misconceptions (Clement, Brown, and Zietsman, 1989; Confrey, 1990). Misconceptions can often be understood as parts of a larger system of beliefs that do a good deal of cognitive work for the child. They also can reflect mistaken ontological commitments, which when changed allow the child to access other, more relevant, and already present concepts (Chi, 2005). Finally, they can be seen as necessary conceptual steppingstones on a path toward more accurate knowledge. Extending and Revising Naïve Biology During the elementary and early middle school years, children show major gains in their understanding of the living world. There is considerable growth in factual knowledge that starts to fill out conceptual frameworks. Children have opportunities to observe particular animals or plants (through caretaking or school activities) and learn more about what they do, what their parts are, what their insides are like, etc. Between preschool and fifth grade, children are able to list more and more internal body parts (Gellert, 1962). They also gain a better understanding of the function of those parts. Of course, that emerging understanding of anatomy and function is hardly complete by middle school. Most adults have huge gaps in their understanding of body structure and function in addition to misconceptions. Children also learn about many more types of plants and animals. Whether through a visit to the zoo, reading a book about another country, or looking at animals and plants on line, there is a continual expansion in understanding about the diversity of kinds in the living world. There is also an increasing appreciation of the depth of biological taxonomies, with an emerging awareness of different subclasses of species, such as breeds of dogs. In addition to the accumulation of facts, children in the elementary school years also appear to show restructuring of knowledge. They may reclassify some kinds of plants from nonliving to living (Hatano et al., 1997). More-
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 over, such shifts seem to be linked to cultural practices as well. For example, in a cross-national study of U.S., Japanese, and Israeli children, only 60 percent of Israeli fourth graders thought that plants were alive compared with over 90 percent of U.S. and Japanese children. Children may well shift to belief in the living nature of plants without explicit instruction or such cultural practices as gardening, but those forms of exposure may accelerate the process. There is also growth in children’s understanding of the human body as a machine (see Carey, 1985, 1995; and Cridier, 1981, for reviews). That is, with the development of an understanding of internal organs comes elaboration of ideas about how they function. Although these ideas may be quite simplistic, they represent an elaboration of their ideas about mechanisms, by combining some ideas of physical mechanism with body structure. Examples are coming to see the heart as a pump, coming to see the insides as consisting of interconnected tubes with vital nutrients transported to different parts of the body (e.g., Arnaudin and Mintez, 1985). Children also come to see that food is taken in, broken down into pieces, and then physically transported. They also gain some idea that human beings take in and breathe out air (exchange of materials). At the same time, they can miss many other mechanisms, such as that food is broken down not only physically but also chemically, or that there are many feedback loops operating between organs and systems. Again, not only are elementary schoolchildren missing many details about the workings of plants and animals, but they also have a number of misconceptions. For example, as children come to recognize that plants are living things, they begin to overgeneralize that plants eat, sleep, etc. A powerful idea for them is that plants take in their food through their roots, rather than understanding that they synthesize sugars in their leaves from inanimate raw materials (Roth, 1984). There are many reasons why understanding photosynthesis is difficult, including limitations in their understanding of matter and atomic-molecular levels of description. Limitations in their conceptions of matter also affect their understanding of growth and decay. These sorts of patterns also illustrate how domain knowledge interacts; limitations in one’s understanding in one domain, that of matter, can constrain the kinds of ideas one can consider in another, that of metabolism. Again, many of these misconceptions persist in adults, who normally are quite surprised at how much of the mass of plants comes from the air around them. One area of many misconceptions concerns cellular levels of functioning and mechanisms (Dreyfus and Jungworth, 1989; Flores, Tovar, and Gallegos, 2003). Of course, many of these problems are failures to develop any meaningful level of description or explanation at a cellular level. Students may think of cells as inanimate or confuse atoms and cells. Further-
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 more, without an atomic-molecular level of description, it is hard to understand what cells are doing (to understand cellular metabolism, etc.). They may have an anthropomorphic view of cells as making decisions and see the nucleus as directing all cell processes. They may also see cells as engaging in miniature versions of macroscopic processes. For example, they think of nutritive processes in cells as analogous to macroscopic digestive processes where food is ground and processed; or they confuse cellular respiration with macroscopic processes of breathing (Flores, Tovar, and Gallegos, 2003). Thus, they lack distinct descriptions of processes at the atomic-molecular and cellular levels that would provide deeper, mechanistic explanations for macroscopic phenomena. Overall, they seem to retain a simple macroscopic conception of the workings of the human body—and a very limited one at that. At a more systemic level, children’s understanding of the origin of living things undergoes considerable change. Between about 8 and 10 years of age, children develop a more explicit creationist explanation of the origins of species, regardless of beliefs in their homes (Evans, 2001). Such beliefs may reflect the formation of an explicit theory based on their initial essentialist bias—that is, their initial tendency to believe that things have a true underlying nature. Thus, a belief that species have fixed essences works against the necessary concept of a species as a probabilistic distribution of traits on which natural selection operates. That essentialist bias, however, is not merely a problem confronted by children. Indeed, it has been argued that the relatively late emergence of evolutionary theory in the history of science was because of the essentialist biases in most adult theories of species (Hull, 1965; Mayer, 1982), leading one scholar to remark that essentialism had resulted in a “2000 year stasis” in evolutionary thought. This continuing difficulty with evolutionary thought in adulthood is also borne out in work showing that college-educated adults also frequently answer questions about evolution and natural selection in ways that are not in accord with evolutionary theory (Shtulman, 2006). Thus, essentialist biases can distort judgments about a wide range of evolutionary phenomena, including variation, inheritance, adaptation, domestication, speciation, and extinction (Shtulman, 2006). It may also be the case that evolutionary thought is hampered in childhood and beyond by another bias that emerges in the first year of life, that of seeing intentional agents as the only plausible causes of ordered relationships in the world (Newman et al., 2006). When tested as to whether an inanimate entity, such as the wind, or an animate one, such as a person, could cause a disordered array to become ordered, 1-year-olds and preschoolers strongly prefer the animate agent, while showing no preference when the situation is reversed, that is, the cause of an ordered array becoming disordered. This bias may be related to the argument from design, a centuries-old belief that the elaborate functional structure of the living
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 world must be caused by intentional agents who “designed” those living things. The study of children’s intuitive biology has also revealed strong cross-cultural variations that seem to be closely related to cultural practices and traditions. Thus, children in non-Western traditional cultures often seem to have more sophisticated notions about taxonomies, ecology, and what properties are likely to be shared among various groups of animals and plants (Atran et al., 2001; Atran, Medin, and Ross, 2004; Ross et al., 2003; Waxman and Medin, in press). The simple act of raising a goldfish can help a child move to more sophisticated forms of biological thought (Inagaki and Hatano, 2001). One intriguing interpretation of cultural differences has emerged from a comparison between cross-cultural studies and changes in beliefs about biology through the course of history. It appears that with respect to an understanding of the taxonomies of genera, species, and subspecies, there has been a gradual devolution of biological knowledge in Western urbanized cultures over the past 400 years (Wolff, Medin, and Pankratz, 1999; Atran, Medin, and Ross, 2004). Expanding Understandings of Matter and Its Transformation We discussed how preschool conceptions of matter and its transformation continue to change in the elementary school years. In addition, we treat this topic in depth in Chapter 8 where we discuss how a learning progression can be developed for teaching about matter and the atomic-molecular theory. We therefore provide only a brief overview here to illustrate the complexity of the terrain children will have to cover, some of the shifts in conceptualization that can occur along the way, and how different ideas interact with each other and with forms of teaching. There is now an extensive literature of misconceptions in the area broadly known as chemistry. Misconceptions have been documented in concepts of burning (Boujaoude, 1991), the nature of gases (Benson, Wittrock, and Baur, 1993), the particulate nature of matter (De Vos and Verdonk, 1996), and many other areas (Abraham et al., 1992; Andersson, 1990). One major area of difficulty involves coming to conceptualize gases as material bodies. Students tend to think of gases as immaterial and ethereal—belonging to an ontologically different category than solids and liquids. Another major difficulty involves developing a macroscopic conception of chemical substances (as characterized by its properties such as boiling and melting points, different spectra, etc.) that allows them to identify substances and track the ways substances can go in and out of existence in chemical change (Johnson, 2000, 2002). Although very young children tend to identify material kinds by their perceptual properties, during elementary
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 school children increasingly trace the identity of materials through their transformational history (e.g., sawdust comes from grinding up wood, so it must still be the same kind of stuff with some of its properties). This move can lead them to “hyperconservation of material kind”—a commitment to thinking that the identity of material is generally preserved which prevents them from being able to engage with the idea of chemical change. For example, they may see chemical changes as involving simply the mixture of substances whose identities are maintained during the process. Yet attending to transformation history can spawn productive insights in other contexts. For example, it allows them to think of materials as underlying constituents that maintain some core properties and to explain the properties of large-scale objects in terms of the materials of which they are composed. This move may be quite helpful to them in constructing an initial understanding of density as an intensive characteristic of materials. Ultimately, however, in developing an understanding of atomic-molecular theory, students will need to reconsider the relation between properties that characterize entities at macro and micro levels and the ways assumptions about entities at the micro level can be used to explain observable phenomena. For example, although some macro-level properties are explained in decompositional terms (e.g., the weight and mass of an object is a function of the weight and mass of the atoms or molecules of which it is composed), other macro-level properties are emergent characteristics explained in terms of interactions among entities at the micro level. For example, objects are solid not because they have solid atoms, but because of bonding patterns among atoms and molecules. Thus, another major area of difficulty concerns linking up micro-level processes and entities with macro-level phenomena (Ben-Zvi, Silberstein, and Mamlok, 1989). Thus, elementary schoolchildren often have difficulty seeing how micro-level entities are related to macro-level ones, sometimes thinking that everything must appear the same at all levels of analysis (Nakhleh and Samarapungavan, 1999). Unfortunately, an understanding of the distinction and linkages between macro and micro levels is often obscured by current teaching approaches that do not engage students with thinking through these issues and that have not systematically developed students’ epistemological understanding of the nature of models and theories. Students may be introduced to atoms and molecules through thought experiments about dividing materials into little pieces. This approach encourages students to think of atoms and molecules as just little pieces of materials that inherit all of their macroscopic properties. They then may not recognize that atoms/molecules are preexisting entities with distinct properties and characteristics (Pfundt, 1981). Students may be taught about the atomic-molecular theory as a “rhetoric of conclusions” or list of facts, rather than being engaged in model-based reasoning and exploring how to explain and make sense of a wide range of
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 phenomena (Lee et al., 1993; Snir, Smith, and Raz, 2003). In addition, they often are presented with such an impoverished view of the atomic-molecular theory (e.g., no discussion of atoms and molecules as discrete particles separated by empty space or of the role of bonds in holding particles together) that students cannot possibly understand how to explain macroscopic phenomena in atomic-molecular terms (Nussbaum, 1998). Fortunately, innovative approaches to teaching students about atoms and molecules indicate that middle school students can engage with these issues and benefit greatly from teaching approaches that encourage them to think through these issues (Lee et al., 1993; Meheut and Chomat, 1990; Nussbaum, 1998; Snir, Smith, and Raz, 2003; see Chapter 8 for a discussion of some of these innovative teaching approaches.) Further, there is evidence that being able to think about matter in atomic-molecular terms feeds back and helps clarify children’s understanding of the material nature of gases, phase change, chemical substance and chemical reactions (Lee et al, 1993; Johnson, 1998, 2002). In short, it takes many years to work out the subtleties of the appropriate constituents of matter and how they combine to create larger units all the way up to those that are macroscopically observable. As children try to figure out these relations, they do make a large number of mistaken inferences about the nature of matter and its transformation. Above and beyond those mistakes, however, are some more accurate beliefs about the different kinds of matter, some sense of conservation, and what sorts of properties are likely to be the most useful in identifying substances. An Expanding Theory of Psychology We have explained that infants and preschoolers are acutely sensitive to intentional agents and that they make a wide range of causal attributions about intentional agents that they do not make for other kinds of agents. By the end of the preschool period, they have learned how to think about the relations between true and false beliefs and actions in contexts related to those beliefs. These insights, however, are only the beginning of a long process of increasingly subtle insights into the workings of the minds of others, insights that continue well into adolescence. For example, only in the middle of elementary school do children start to clearly understand that an individual can simultaneously have two conflicting desires or beliefs (Choe, Keil, and Bloom, 2005). Similarly, it can take many years to understand that different people might see ambiguous events quite differently because of the different expectations or biases they bring to the situation (Barquero, Robinson, and Thomas, 2003; Mills and Keil, 2005; Pillow and Henrichon, 1996). The more subtle consequences of thought, such as that cognitive inferences can be sources of knowledge, also take time to develop (Pillow
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 nation is most relevant to the task at hand. A younger child may think hammers are used for hammering nails and not at first realize that they can also be used for sealing a paint can lid. When she realizes the relevance, she can use the tool immediately. The same pattern can happen with conceptual systems as tools. Shifting relevances in themselves may or may not be related to conceptual change. We have already seen how a child may undergo conceptual change in an area but still fall back on an older system because she doesn’t fully realize the relevance or value of the new one. When the relevance is made clear, the child may suddenly use the system with ease. One example occurs in the development of biological thought: younger children may interpret a property, such as “sleeps,” in psychological terms and thereby judge that simple animals do not sleep (Carey, 1985). Yet when the same children are primed with a very brief context indicating that sleeping can also refer to how the body works, they will instantly attribute sleeping to a much broader array of cases (Gutheil, Vera, and Keil, 1998). The most relevant domain of explanation for a particular task may often come from experience with alternative framings or even from general cultural practices (Atran, Medin, and Ross, 2004). It is therefore essential, when encountering developmental changes in children’s ability to reason about various problems in the sciences, not only to understand the kind of conceptual change that is involved, but also to understand that some dramatic changes in performance ability may be largely unrelated to any underlying changes in conceptual understanding. As an adult, one can easily see how this is the case by considering how one’s ability to understand a complex scientific phenomena may evaporate in the face of powerful cognitive distractions, massive sleep deprivation, or other factors that reduce the efficiency of cognitive processing. A sleep-deprived person hasn’t really undergone regressive conceptual change; he simply has lost access and may not be tracking as well cues to the relevance of the best conceptual system. As mentioned earlier, however, memory and attentional changes can sometimes also be linked to conceptual change and, in such cases, bring conceptual change back into the process of developmental change. CONCLUSIONS As children enter elementary school, the pace of change in their knowledge and understanding of the natural world continues and sometimes seems to dramatically accelerate. Thus, while they bring much with them to the classroom from their preschool years, they launch into quite extraordinary expansions of their knowledge and understanding between kindergarten and grade 8. Understanding how their knowledge growth unfolds and can be supported requires an appreciation of the connections with earlier forms
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 of understanding. Importantly, the kindergartener must be seen as far more than a bundle of mistaken ideas that needs to be completely reformed from scratch. Admittedly, children’s understandings of the world sometimes contradict scientific explanations, and these conceptions about the natural world can pose obstacles to learning science. However, their prior knowledge also offers leverage points that can be built on to develop their understanding of scientific concepts and their ability to engage in scientific investigations. Thus, children’s prior knowledge must be taken into account in order to design instruction in strategic ways that capitalize on the leverage points and adequately address potential areas of misunderstanding. Young and novice students are likely to profit from study in areas in which their personal, prior experience with the natural world can be leveraged to connect with scientific ideas. Debates remain about how the early understanding that children bring to school continues to develop across later years. According to one view, these core knowledge domains from infancy remain a nearly invariant framework of ways of understanding the world for much of one’s life afterward (Carey and Spelke, 1996). Thus, even as adults, especially when under time pressure or distraction, we may show some of the same errors shown by infants in terms of their understandings of trajectories, collisions, and the like. By these accounts, there is a freezing of core knowledge domains early on because such knowledge can only be elaborated, not fundamentally revised. The later development of both naïve and more formal scientific theories depends on the ability to combine these domains (as well as other constructed understandings) in new ways, perhaps through language, which is said to have a kind of combinatorial glue-like power over these domains. These newer forms of knowledge, unlike core knowledge, are always open to revision, including quite radical forms of conceptual change. They also emerge in a different cognitive format and sit on top of these core domains but not really rewrite them or reinterpret them so much as coexist with them and be more evident when cognition is more reflective, slow, and considered. An alternative view considers all knowledge to be revisable (Gopnik, 1996) and that these early domains continue to differentiate and become elaborated through childhood and perhaps into adulthood as well (Rogers and McClelland, 2004). For example, the folk sciences may start in infancy but continue to grow, as systems, for many years thereafter. In some accounts they may continue to gradually differentiate, but they always tend to have the same overall structure. In other accounts, quite dramatic patterns of conceptual change, sometimes akin to scientific revolutions in the history of science, are said to occur. Conceptual change can take on several distinct forms, and the literature
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 uses several different senses of these kinds of change, sometimes not recognizing the differences (Inagaki and Hatano, 2002; Keil, 1999). It is critical to understand the full diversity of kinds of conceptual change and the range of mechanisms that bring it about as well as how developmental changes in scientific thought can occur without obvious conceptual change. Some conceptual changes are more challenging than others. For example, when children develop commonsense frameworks that deviate substantially from those proposed by scientists, a considerable amount of conceptual work is required to achieve knowledge restructuring. Part of the difficulty of learning a new concept is letting go of a familiar but incorrect set of ideas. Major changes in conceptual frameworks are often difficult to grasp because they require learners to break out of their familiar frame and reorganize a body of knowledge, often in ways that draw on unfamiliar ideas. Making these changes is facilitated when students engage in metacognitively guided learning, when teachers use a variety of techniques (such as bridging analogies, thought experiments, and imagistic reasoning) to help students construct an understanding of new concepts, and when students have opportunities to strengthen their understanding of the new ideas through extended application and argumentation. Importantly, the difference between students who are less or more proficient in science is not only that the latter know more discrete facts. Instead, gains in proficiency often consist of changes in the organization of knowledge, not just the accretion of more pieces of knowledge. When students develop a coherent understanding of the organizing principles of science, they are more likely to be able to apply their knowledge appropriately and will learn new, related material more effectively. Knowledge of the salient factual details is necessary but not sufficient for developing an understanding of the discipline and its core ideas and principles. REFERENCES Abraham, M.R., Grzybowski, E.B., Renner, J.W., and Marek, E.A. (1992). Understandings and misunderstandings of eighth graders of five chemistry concepts found in textbooks. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 29, 105-120. Acredolo, C., Adams, A., and Schmid, J. (1984). On the understanding of the relationships between speed, duration, and distance. Child Development, 55, 2151-2159. Agan, L., and Sneider, C. (2004). Learning about the Earth’s shape and gravity: A guide for teachers and curriculum developers. Astronomy Education Review, 2(2), 90-117. Available: http://aer.noao.edu/cgi-bin/new.pl [accessed Dec. 2006]. Andersson, B. (1990). Pupils’ conceptions of matter and its transformations (ages 12-16). Studies in Science Education, 18, 53-85. Arnaudin, M.W., and Mintez, J.J. (1985). Students’ alternative conceptions of the human circulatory system: A cross-age study. Science Education, 69, 721-733.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: