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An analysis of children’s ideas of heat phenomena Erickson, Gaalen L.

Abstract

This study was directed towards the resolution of three, interdependent problems: 1) the identification of 'typical' beliefs about heat phenomena held by children; 2) the development of a method for examining the organization of these beliefs; and 3) the application of the results to a classroom situation. Underlying these problems was the fundamental assumption that knowledge of children's intellectual commitments is an important precursor to the systematic development of instructional strategies. Some recent studies have suggested that a discrepancy between students' existing commitments and those portrayed by the curricular materials may be the source' of significant "learning difficulties" encountered in the science classroom. The methods of study used were in part descriptive and in part empirical. In the first part, interview data were collected and analyzed while the second part involved the construction of a type of instrument for identifying conceptual profiles of individual children and groups of children. The Conceptual Profile Instrument (C.P.I.) consisted of statements about heat obtained from the interview data, representing 'typical' children's ideas, along with statements representing the kinetic and caloric theories of heat. Children were required to respond to each statement on a set of bipolar scales representing belief and familiarity dimensions. The results of the interview data were summarized in terms of a number of ideas about heat called a "Children's Perspective." It was concluded that most children possess some genuine beliefs about heat and temperature. These beliefs were hypothesized to be based at least in part upon common-sense intuitions developed from everyday experience. For example, the temperature of an object was thought to be related to the amount of heat possessed by that object and so many children concluded that the temperature of an object depended, in part, upon its size. "Heat", and frequently "cold", were generally conceived to be a type of subtle substance (often referred to as fumes or rays) capable of penetrating most objects. Heat was thus considered to be an active external agent accounting for the expansion-contraction and melting-freezing behaviour exhibited by many substances. Analysis of the results obtained from administering the C.P.I, to twelve classes of grade 5, 7 and 9 students provided evidence for three clearly distinguishable belief patterns about heat phenomena. The belief patterns corresponded to the 'built-in' kinetic, caloric and children's perspectives. These patterns were termed "Model Conceptual Profiles" in the study. These Profiles were interpreted in terms of different levels of understanding of heat phenomena. One Model Conceptual Profile appeared to represent a more abstract view of heat as manifested by higher ratings of the kinetic and caloric statements. Another was interpreted to represent a more concrete, common-sense viewpoint, while the third was thought to represent a type of transitional level. Two ways of applying the results of the study to a classroom situation were discussed: an interpretive use of the profiles and an applicative use. A set of potential teaching maneuvers, cross-referenced to a particular Model Conceptual Profile were proposed.

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