Children's Informal Ideas in Science

Children's Informal Ideas in Science

Children's Informal Ideas in Science

Children's Informal Ideas in Science


The ideas that children have about science concepts have for the past decade been the subject of a wealth of international research. But while the area has been strong in terms of data, it has suffered from a lack of theory.
Children's Informal Ideas in Scienceaddresses the question of whether children's ideas about science can be explained in a single theoretical framework. Twelve different approaches combine to tackle this central issue, each taking a deliberately critical standpoint. The contributors address such themes as values in research, the social construction of knowledge and the work of Piaget in a rich contribution to the debate without claiming finally to resolve it. The authors conclude with a discussion of how a theory can be built up, along with suggestions for ways ahead in the research.



Investigations of the ideas that children have about science concepts are a very widespread part of the world-wide research effort, and have been so for the past decade. The early work of Driver and Viennot is well known, and they, their collaborators and others have shown a diversity of ideas held by children in an increasing range of science topics. These children’s ideas have been variously described as ‘misconceptions,’ ‘preconceptions,’ ‘alternative frameworks’, as well as by other labels. Whatever the label, aspects of the research movement are finding their way into science curriculum development, into teacher training, and into broader aspects of schooling such as anti-sexist and anti-racist education.

There are, however, serious questions to be asked about this research movement. Does the label used to describe the work determine the ways different groups approach the problem, so that it colours the way they talk to, and about, each other? Are the accumulated data a set of observations in search of a theory? Are the theoretical positions so diverse and diffuse that the protagonists cannot properly debate the differences in the positions they may take? Has the approach that has labelled ideas that depart from orthodox science as ‘children’s alternative conceptions’ merely re-labelled ‘wrong’ ideas, or has it taken excessively seriously a relativist position that accepts as ‘appropriate’ the most bizarre and idiosyncratic accounts of natural phenomena? Has it confused respect for the child’s ideas with respect for truth?

Above all, is there any great value in more researchers collecting more data about more phenomena from more groups of children in more countries? Is it now more profitable to devote effort trying to fit the existing work into a theoretical framework? But is that last question naive: is there any reason to suppose there is one theoretical position that is best? Might there not be a number of theoretical orientations that can be illuminating for different purposes? It seems fruitful now to attempt to use the existing data in a number of ways: for pedagogy; for curriculum decision making; to illuminate aspects of cognitive and/or social psychology.

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