UBC Theses and Dissertations
Children as experimenters : elementary students' actions in an experimental context with magnets Meyer, Karen
In science education the nature and value of science laboratory activities have become the subject of critical debate. Some science educators argue that a better understanding of what students do while purposefully engaged with materials would provide some answers. The intent of this study is to explore elementary students' actions and the knowledge they use while designing and conducting experiments. Four dyads each from grades 4 and 7 participated in three events. First, each pair was presented with a question (Which magnet is strongest?), two sets of magnets (one set at a time) and materials. The researcher observed and videotaped dyads' actions with materials until they made a conclusion for both magnet sets. Second, the researcher presented dyads with a selective set of materials to further explore their conceptions of magnetism. Finally, the pairs of students were interviewed while they watched the video of themselves experimenting during the first two events. The data were analyzed using an action theory perspective which emphasizes the cognitive nature of action. Students' models of magnetism were constructed from the data. Students used more than one model to explain different effects they observed. The designs of student experiments were grounded in their operational knowledge of the materials. Dyads generated data from a series of experiments whereby they manipulated different materials in a variety of ways. Dyads who obtained variable data did not repeat experiments to confirm or disconfirm results; rather they used specific strategies to make conclusions. The designs and procedures of experiments of students from both grades were similar, likely due to their common knowledge of the materials and their limited experience with open-ended tasks.
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