Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

The Reflective Experimental Construction of Meanings about the Shape of the Earth and the Alternation of Day and Night*

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

The Reflective Experimental Construction of Meanings about the Shape of the Earth and the Alternation of Day and Night*

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to describe and analyze the process of construction of meaning about the shape of the Earth and the alternation of day and night, which is inherent to the practice of experimental science teaching. This teaching practice was gradually done by the researcher in a 1^sup st^ grade class of a Portuguese primary school. The class was composed of 18 students, ten girls and eight boys, with ages ranging from six to seven years old. The analysis of the meaning construction process focused on the class diary prepared by the researcher, based on the field notes and audio recordings made during the participant observation in the classroom. The goals of the interpretive analysis of the diary were as follows: a) identifying the students' initial ideas expressed during class about the shape of the Earth, b) characterizing the processes that promote the construction of knowledge about the topics under study; c) and presenting the learning that takes place during class. These instances of learning described in the class diary, combined with the results of a true or false questionnaire, suggest that most students developed a good understanding about the shape of the Earth and the alternation of day and night.

Keywords: Conceptual Development, Evolution Understanding, Parent-Child Conversation, Informal Learning Environments, Science Education.

Introduction

The identification of the children's intuitive ideas about various science topics was, over the last three decades, a powerful research guideline in the field of cognitive science and science education. Several studies have demonstrated that children construct, from an early age, intuitive mental models about the shape of the Earth and the alternation of day and night that diverge from the scientific model (Nussbaum, 1985; Vosniadou & Brewer, 1992, 1994; Fleer, 1997; Siegal, et. al, 2004; Blown & Bryce, 2007; Özsoy, 2012). As an example, Vosniadou and Brewer (1992) identified, in primary school children in the U.S., five alternative mental models of the Earth: the rectangular earth, the disc earth, the dual earth, the hollow sphere, and the flattened sphere.

Nevertheless, the vast knowledge produced by such lines of research, especially within science education, has garnered criticism from some constructivists as regards its diminished influence on the improvement of the children's learning and teaching. Matthews (2000) claims that this theoretical knowledge "offers very little guidance for teachers who are in the classroom trying to teach Science contents" (2000, p.270). In the same sense, White states that "...although the research on alternative conceptions has sparked interest in the content, it has not yielded clear advice about how to teach different topics" (1994, p.255).

In many countries, the primary school science syllabuses, while they recommend activities based on inquiry methods, hands-on activities, dialogues, discussion and collaborative working, do not include any information on how teachers should implement such activities in their approach to the various teaching contents (Eurydice, 2011). Despite all efforts, in many countries these curricular guidelines still do not bear the necessary influence to change the pedagogical practices of teachers. For example, Martínez and Díaz (2005), when referring to the Spanish educational context, mention that the curricular guidelines for primary education have been advising on more innovative Science teaching, based on an active and constructive role for the student. However, the reality in that country's classrooms is quite different, as the authors point out: "studies and polls carried out show that Science teaching as a transmission is still predominant, and it is based on blackboard master-classes, on the school textbook and the solving of closed problems related to the studied themes" (2005, p. 243).

The promotion of inquiry-based Science teaching is a highly demanding challenge, which calls for major changes in the teaching practice (Harlen, 2010; Brand & Moore 2011). …

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