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Children’s Scientific Thinking: Social Interaction and Cognitive Development

Children’s Scientific Thinking: Social Interaction and Cognitive Development



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Published by Voog
A report examining children's cognitive development and understanding of scientific principles (why objects float or sink).
A report examining children's cognitive development and understanding of scientific principles (why objects float or sink).

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: Voog on Mar 21, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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W. T. LeGard (2004) OU
Children’s Scientific Thinking: SocialInteraction and Cognitive Development
An observational study examined children’s scientific reasoning pertaining to objectsthat float or sink. The study was designed to test the hypotheses that social interactionis related to cognitive change, and that children move through developmental stagesin an understanding of science. The sample comprised a male child aged eight and afemale child aged twelve. Data were collated from video-recorded scientific tasks.The participants’ predictions and explanations were coded. Findings revealed thatsocial interaction and cognitive conflict can cause conceptual change, and that thereexists a developmental progression in children’s scientific thinking. The complexityof conceptual change is related to the child’s age. Scaffolding is only successful if theZPD is identified correctly.
Although Piaget (1955a) regarded cognitive development as an endogenous process,he proposed that peer-interaction has the potential to promote cognitive development.He claimed that such interactions allow children to experience socio-cognitiveconflict. Thus, conflicting viewpoints may compel the child to re-evaluate their individual knowledge.Vygotsky (1978) perceived children as social beings who are able to appropriate new patterns of thinking when learning alongside individuals who are more proficient.Through such collaboration, children come to master activities and think in ways thathave meaning in their culture. Vygotsky called this concept, the Zone of ProximalDevelopment (ZPD). This is the expanse between the child’s level of developmentand their potential developmental level, in collaboration with more competentindividuals. Thus, social interactions ‘scaffold’ (Wood, 1988) the child’s cognitivedevelopment in the ZPD, leading to a higher level of reasoning.Many researchers (e.g. Brownell and Carriger, 1999; Perret-Clermont, 1980; Doiseand Mugny, 1984; Howe et al., 1992) maintain that social interaction is related tocognitive change and the understanding of concepts in science.Selley (1993) proposed a developmental progression of childrens scientificunderstanding, relating to floating and sinking. He maintained that children initiallyacquire practical comprehension of buoyancy. As children realize their theories areinsufficient, they progress through various stages, what Selley termed Hypotheses 1,(1A), 2, 3 and 4.The above research proposes that social interaction and cognitive conflict contributeto cognitive change, and that children undergo a progression in scientificunderstanding. The present observational study measured children’s predictions andexplanations concerning the sinking and floating behaviour of a variety of objects.The study’s principle intention was to answer the following research questions: 1) Dothe results support researchers’ findings that cognitive conflict and collaboration playa role in cognitive development? 2) Is there evidence that the participants relate to
Selley’s progression of scientific understanding? It is predicted that the outcome of the present study will support the above research.
A cross-sectional research design employed science-based tasks. Data were collectedusing observation of scientific procedures, where the participants discussed their thinking. Video recordings were made of the children’s investigations, which were led by Professor Terezinha Nunes. The participants’ responses were coded and analysed.
Participants included one male and one female child − aged seven (Daniel) and twelve(Jessica) − selected from two state schools in the Oxford area.
The participants’ predictions and explanations were coded (Appendix 1) and thefrequency of main causal themes identified (Appendix 2). Questions and statementsthat induce cognitive conflict were posed, and an example of these is included in theappendices (Appendix 3). The approximate length of the tasks for Daniel and Jessicawere thirty-five and thirty minutes respectively. For a complete list of the objects usedand the protocol for the practical task see Appendix 4.
A primary school was approached for children who would be willing to participate ina video-recorded practical investigation. A number of children agreed to take part. Therecordings took place in March 2005 within the school building during the school day.The seven-year-old participant was recorded in a room familiar to him, and wasaccompanied by a teaching assistant. A sound recordist, two camera operators, amember of the course team and the producer were present. Professor Nunes, who hadno previous knowledge of the participants, led the investigations.The children were presented with eight objects and asked to speculate if the itemswould sink or float and their reasons for their predictions. The predictions were testedand the participants asked to comment on what had occurred. The children were askedto explain why the two groups of objects behaved as they did. The participants were presented with the next ten items and the above procedure was repeated. This part of the investigation was referred to as the Initial Stage.Attention was drawn to objects where the children’s explanations indicated anincomplete understanding. This phase of the task was referred to as Stage 6/7. The participants were again asked to explain why the items in each group floated or sank.A set of scales and two similar shaped, but different sized, tins containing lentils wereintroduced. The larger tin was the heaviest and floated. The participantsunderstanding of scales was confirmed and the tins weighed. The children were askedto predict what would occur once the tins were placed in the water and to discuss whathappened. Finally, the participants were asked why the two groups of objects behavedas they did.2
Informed consent was obtained and the children were notified that they could endtheir participation at any time. Any indication that the participants wereuncomfortable with the procedure was regarded as withdrawal of consent. Personalinformation was protected in line with the British Psychological Society’s protocols.
The participants’ predictions and explanations were coded. Where two or moreexplanations were offered for the same object, each was coded separately. The codingmethod was used to attain a clear comparison between the children’s Initial Stageexplanations and those following cognitive conflict (Stage 6/7). Daniel correctly predicted that 13 out of the 18 objects would sink or float. Jessica accuratelyidentified that 12 of the 18 items would behave as they did. Both participants madefalse predictions on the tin lid, the painted block, the button and the elastic band.Daniel initially cited 5 causal themes. Following cognitive conflict, the number of explanations remained at 5 (Figure 1). At the Initial Stage of the investigation, Jessicanamed 9 causal themes. At Stage 6/7, this was reduced to 6 (Figure 2).
Figure 1: Frequency of main causal themes (Daniel)
012345678Weight Experience Material Shape Holes Grouping SimilaMaterialsNo Answer 
Causal themes
   N  u  m   b  e  r  o   f  e  x  p   l  a  n  a   t   i  o  n  s
InitialStage 6/7

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