Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

A Study to Determine the Mental Models in Preschool Children's Conceptualization of a Desert Environment

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

A Study to Determine the Mental Models in Preschool Children's Conceptualization of a Desert Environment

Article excerpt

Introduction

After every natural disaster, we are reminded that all the ecosystems in the biosphere are under threat as a result of the human exploitation of natural resources. Considering that the biosphere is essential to the preservation of all life forms (Callenbach, 2012), such a threat poses a shared and significant problem for humanity. An ecosystem is a natural system that originates from the regular and balanced interaction between all living and non-living things (abiotic elements), and which is static-oriented and self-renewing (Dinç & Özkaya, 2015; Kislalioglu & Berkes, 2012). In numerous international forums, a wide range of administrative and scientific precautions have been taken in order to find solutions to the increasing number of environmental problems facing the planet (Özsoy, Özsoy & Kuruyer, 2011). According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, factors, such as temperature, rain and soil moisture, wind, humidity, and nutrient cycle, determine the structure and features of an ecosystem (Noble, 2014). About 45% of the earth's surface is covered with desert and semi-desert areas (Shekhawat, et al., 2012). Most deserts occur between 20o and 40o latitude (Noble, 2014). Although it would appear that temperature determines the basic features of deserts, they are generally characterized by temperate climates with low annual rainfall, high evaporation, and large seasonal and daily temperature contrasts. They are also home to a significant number of endemic plants, reptiles, and fish (National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaption Strategy, 2012).

Therefore, like forests or oceans, deserts need to be protected against man-made climate change. That said, in recent years, it has been forests, oceans and seas that have generated the most environmental concern; less attention has been given to desert ecosystems, which are also critical to the preservation of all life forms (Fenk, et al., 2014). It has been reported that the rise in global temperatures (Li, Chen, van der Tol, Luo & Su, 2014), leading to the melting of icebergs (Barrett, et al., 2008), the increase in rainfall levels, dry air, and changes in humidity rates, pose a significant threat to the fragile life forms found in deserts (United States Global Change Research Program, 2009). Exposure to tourism has also resulted in negative implications for the desert ecosystems. BBC Nature (Bardo, 2012) and The Independent (Connor, 2006) have published articles that bring this situation to light, warning that the human impact of tourism as well as off-road racing are particularly harmful to mammals and plants found in the desert. Moreover, desert ecosystems are unhelpfully compared with the notion of desertification, in which terrain that becomes infertile and unable to support living things is referred to as a desert (Abella, Chiquoine, Newton & Vanier, 2015): a notion that is both ignorant and anthropocentric in respect of desert ecosystems (World Resource Institute, 2005). There is a risk, however, that such a notion may infiltrate the education system and allow the perception that deserts are worthless terrain to prevail (Judson, 2011). In order to prevent against such a scenario, individuals need to acquire scientific-based knowledge at the earliest opportunity in life.

As part of the Belgrade Workshop (1975), six core aims were agreed in relation to environmental education (UNESCO, 1975), including raising awareness and shaping positive attitudes from the start of early childhood education (Kahriman-Öztürk, Olgan & Güler, 2012). Awareness, or the state of being aware, when examined in detail, involves the interaction between sensory and cognitive processes with schemes (Becker, Kleinböhl & Hölzl, 2012). Knowledge, conditioning and attention are required for awareness to develop properly (Ross & Nelson, 1973). In Piaget's (1970) study, it is understood that learning occurs by an individual's existing prior knowledge interacting with new data in order to create new structures of knowledge. …

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