Manipulating Models and Grasping the Ideas They Represent

T. G. K. Bryce, E. J. Blown
2016 Science & Education  
2016) Manipulating models and grasping the ideas hey represent. Science and Education, 25 (1-2). pp. 47-93. ISSN 0926-7220 , http://dx. Abstract This article notes the convergence of recent thinking in neuroscience and grounded cognition regarding the way we understand mental representation and recollection: ideas are dynamic and multi-modal, actively created at the point of recall. Also, neurophysiologically, re-entrant signalling among cortical circuits allows non-conscious processing to
more » ... rt our deliberative thoughts and actions. The qualitative research we describe examines the exchanges occurring during semi-structured interviews with 360 children age 3-13, including 294 from New Zealand (158 boys, 136 girls) and 66 from China (34 boys, 32 girls) concerning their understanding of the shape and motion of the Earth, Sun and Moon (ESM). We look closely at the relationships between what is revealed as children manipulate their own play-dough models and their apparent understandings of ESM concepts. In particular, we focus on the switching taking place between what is said, what is drawn and what is modelled. The evidence is supportive of Edelman's view that memory is non-representational and that concepts are the outcome of perceptual mappings, a view which is also in accord with Barsalou's notion that concepts are simulators or skills which operate consistently across several modalities. Quantitative data indicate that the dynamic structure of memory/concept creation is similar in both genders and common to the cultures/ethnicities compared (New Zealand European and Māori; Chinese Han) and that repeated interviews in this longitudinal research lead to more advanced modelling skills and/or more advanced shape and motion concepts, the results supporting hypotheses (Kolmogorov-Smirnov alpha levels .05; r s : p \ .001). Young people's understandings of the visible cosmos (the Sun, the Moon, planet Earth and the stars) have been the subject of research for many decades, and much is known about the acquisition-the relatively slow acquisition-of accurate, scientific ideas. Following in the Piagetian tradition (see Piaget 1929 Piaget , 1930 , the major focus for researchers has been on what young people say in response to questions, on their verbal explanations during semistructured interviews for events such as daytime and night-time, sunrise and sunset, the seasons, lunar phases, and eclipses. Secondly, but to a lesser extent, influenced by the pioneering work of Nussbaum and Novak (1976), Nussbaum (1979) and the later work of Klein (1982), Sneider and Pulos (1983) and Vosniadou and Brewer (1992, 1994), children's drawings of the Earth, Sun and Moon (ESM) have provided an alternative medium of interpretation of children's cosmological concepts. Thirdly, models-created by children from either clay (see Brewer et al. 1987) or play-dough (see Bryce and Blown 2006) , or the use of cultural artefacts like plastic or styrofoam models of globes by teachers or researchers (see Schoultz et al. 2001; Vosniadou et al. 2005 )-have also been interpreted for insights into what they reveal, often in complementary but not always consistent ways. Interviews with young people endeavour to tap into their previous learning, of course, and conversational exchanges pivot on what subjects can recollect or bring to mind at that point. It is readily apparent that, where circumstances permit-in research, in everyday teaching and in ordinary conversations-people sometimes naturally shift from verbal exchange to sketching their thoughts or, more rarely (particularly in the case of 3D objects and concepts), devising a model to show what they mean or perhaps signalling an indication with their hands and arms. (Classical examples in the history of science with regard to models include the Rutherford-Bohr model of the atom and the Watson-Crick model of DNA.) Relatively few researchers have explored the differences stemming from these modalities and the variations in apparent knowledge when subjects change from explanation to drawing to modelling. The research described here looked closely at these variations and the ways in which subjects revealed comprehension when they changed modes in the course of a semi-structured interview. That is, we focused on the switching taking place between what was said, what was drawn and what was modelled.
doi:10.1007/s11191-015-9802-6 fatcat:p2bxq74r3fa2hagoo7uqohukka