Conceptual Structure in Childhood and Adolescence: The Case of Everyday Physics

Conceptual Structure in Childhood and Adolescence: The Case of Everyday Physics

Conceptual Structure in Childhood and Adolescence: The Case of Everyday Physics

Conceptual Structure in Childhood and Adolescence: The Case of Everyday Physics

Synopsis

Christine J. Howe addresses both psychological and education concerns relating to pre-instructional conceptions in three broad topics areas: heat and temperature; force and motion; floating and sinking.

Excerpt

This book is an attempt to address some fundamental questions about human cognition, questions which are of relevance to both psychological theory and educational practice. the book came about, however, because of literature concerned with a widely acknowledged social problem, why a disproportionate number of pupils abandon physics. a myriad of solutions has been proposed but over the past twenty years increasing attention has been paid to the potentially subversive influence of prior knowledge. in particular, it has been argued that pupils come to physics teaching with preformed ideas about the phenomena they will be studying. These ideas undermine the formal message of teaching, resulting in failure, disenchantment and eventual abandonment. Inspired by this line of reasoning, attempts have been made to chart the preformed ideas through systematic research and to demonstrate their intrusion into the physics classroom. Thus, a literature has emerged which is focused on what is commonly referred to as ‘everyday physics’. Since, despite the best efforts of national curricula and so forth, physics is seldom taught before the teenage years, this literature focuses on the thinking and reasoning of relatively senior pupils.

I became aware of the literature about eight years ago. However, reviewing it with the eyes of a psychologist and not a maker of social policy, I felt that the ‘alternativeness’ of everyday physics was being overplayed. Certainly, everyday physics was sufficiently unorthodox to have the dire classroom implications being claimed for it. Nevertheless, there were still distinct points of contact with the received wisdom of science, contact at the levels of both conceptual content and conceptual structure. It occurred to me that these points of contact were exactly what would be expected if, as some influential theorists have claimed, human cognition is organised around causal mechanisms. I could also see that if these theorists were correct, the implications for educational intervention would be both transparent and relatively straightforward. Despite this, I was hesitant. It was not clear to me that the points of contact applied across everyday physics. Moreover, even if they did, I was unsure whether anything conclusive could be said given data which were derived from the teenage group or older. It seemed to me that to make definite statements about the organisation of

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