The construction of knowledge begins informally, when a child is exposed to concepts prior to school education (Karpudewan, Zain and Chandrasegaran, 2017). These constructions and experiences are then drawn upon, by children, when trying to understand an idea that is being introduced to them (Allen, 2014). This enables them to make predictions and have expectations, which challenges them as a whole (Comins, 2001). However, if these experiences and concepts were to contradict or differ to scientific explanations, they would then be titled as misconceptions (Karpudewan, Zain and Chandrasegaran, 2017).
Wesson (2001, in Gooding, 2011, p.35) provides a scientific explanation for this, as it states that when information is sent to the cerebral cortex for analysis, it tends to try and match each individual component to “previously stored memory elements.” Factors that may have contributed towards the formation of these misconceptions include: parents, beliefs, teachers, the media and even learners themselves, according to Gooding (2011).
She further delves into the responsibility of teachers, by suggesting that when they pass on incorrect information, because of possible misconceptions and incorrect knowledge that they may have (Bodzin, Klein and Weaver, 2010), it is problematic, as they may never be challenged. The National Research Council (1997) further suggest that there are different types of misconceptions such as, vernacular.
This is when the meaning of words differ in an everyday, and scientific context, such as ‘field’ when regarding a magnetic field. Therefore, within this account I am going to be discussing examples of educational theory that support children’s understanding of scientific concepts, the implications regarding assessment and teaching, relating this to my own experience on placement, what I have learnt throughout this discussion and how I will carry this forward in my own practice.
As the years progress, the methods that are used to teach primary science are evolving. The use of traditional techniques such as: textbooks, memorisation, and simply the transference of facts from teacher to student, are now shifting to a constructivist approach, which focuses on children understanding the content they are taught (Awan, 2013).
Constructivism involves individuals subconsciously creating explanatory mental models in order to overcome challenges that they are faced with on a daily basis. The models created differ from one individual to the next due to the differences in experiences, and this causes some constructions to be more aligned to the actual concept than others (Allen, 2014).
Theorists who have contributed to this approach are: Ausubel, Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner. Vygotsky believed that knowledge is constructed through social interaction with ‘more knowledgeable others’ (Bates, 2016). The gap between an individual’s capability beforehand, and what they are able to achieve with the help of others, is named the Zone of Proximal Development (McLeod, 2014).
Furthermore, his principle of scaffolding was similarly followed by theorist Jerome Bruner. Scaffolding is the process by which the introduction of ideas in conducted in such a way that enables the individual’s ideas to align more towards a scientific viewpoint (Harlen, 2006). It allows for an individual to take risks safely and reach a level of understanding that may have not been possible if conducted alone.
By adapting this approach to a classroom environment, it may allow misconceptions to be addressed early on. This is as part of scaffolding is to allow the discussion of experiences and find out what children already know about a concept; therefore this provides teachers with the opportunity to do so (Bates, 2016). However, Bruner is similar to theorist Piaget in the fact that his modes of representation are categorised.
Yet, unlike Piaget, Bruner does not believe his modes of representation: enactive, iconic and symbolic, display different developmental stages (McLeod, 2008). This is when information is stored in differing ways as symbolic is when it is stored in the form of a symbol or code, iconic is when it is stored in the form of images and enactive is when it is information is stored from a person performing motor tasks.
This is further explained by Pound (2006), as she states that when an individual comes across unfamiliar concepts, by using his theory they will choose enactive ways of thinking and then, upon familiarisation choose symbolic modes. Piaget suggested that people use mental schema (pattern of thought or behaviour) in order to interpret new information by fitting them into existing patterns.
This is conducted through the process of assimilation, as he believes that using experiences helps individuals to remember and understand information more easily. Accommodation is the process when new information does not fit into existing schema and the individual is said to in the state of disequilibrium. Similar to Piaget, Ausubel believed that it is essential for new experiences, or material to be linked to existing schemata in order for meaningful learning to occur, as opposed to rote learning, which involves repetition and memorisation (Cakir, 2008).