- Hilary Asoko, University of Leeds, UK
- Primary Science Review, Virginia Whitby, May/June 1998
- Liverpool University Press Book Reviews, Anna Traianou, May/June
Soil and Weather - Primary Science Review, Max de Bóo,
29 October 1993
University of Leeds, UK
This is the tenth book in this series of research reports, the
previous nine having been published between 1990 and 1994. This
report, like the earlier ones, documents the outcomes of a piece
of collaborative classroom-based research, involving teachers
and university researchers, in which children's ideas about aspects
of the topic under consideration were explored before and after
teaching interventions. Evidence of changes in thinking is reviewed
and areas which appear to be promising targets for intervention
As explained in the introductory chapter, preliminary work on
the topic of forces was carried out by the project team in 1989,
prior to the introduction of a National Curriculum in England
and Wales. This work, though unpublished, has informed both the
curriculum materials which were developed from the projects (Nuffield
Primary Science, 1993) and the research which forms the focus
of this latest report. In the intervening years, the requirements
of the National Curriculum for science have both influenced and
raised questions about, classroom practice in primary schools,
both in terms of content and pedagogy. This is, perhaps, particularly
so with regard to the teaching of topics within the physical sciences,
about which many teachers express concern about their own understanding.
The revisiting of the topic of forces in 1996/97 was, therefore,
timely and potentially very informative.
Of course it is not only within schools where there have been
changes. Within the research community ideas about science as
a discipline and about the teaching and learning of science concepts
have been developing, with an increasing focus on the influence
of social and contextual factors. Previous SPACE reports, though
situated within a broadly 'constructivist' approach have included
little reference to theoretic perspectives on teaching and learning
beyond statements in the introductory sections such as that the
project is 'based on the view that children develop their ideas
through the experiences they have'. In presenting the latest report,
however, the authors identify a 'significant change in orientation,
compared to the original SPACE project approach' which recognises
the interaction between individual cognitive development and the
ideas to which a person is exposed. A suggestion is made that
conceptual progression may be usefully be considered as being
influenced by the interaction of three factors: curriculum sequencing,
aspects of cognition and the strategies adopted by teachers. Increased
focus on the latter has led, in this study to 'a refinement of
the mode of empirical enquiry .... to attempt to represent more
fully the teacher's role in passing references within the report
to 'enculturation', 'scaffolding', 'the socio-cultural dimension'
etc. raises expectation that aspects of this role which extend
beyond the provision of hands-on activities, from which children
are expected to develop scientific concepts, will be explored.
Following the introduction and a brief chapter on methodology,
chapter three reviews previous work into the development of ideas
about forces and motion and highlights the difficulties which
many learners face. This chapter also provides a brief overview
of work on the elicitation of children's ideas and on teaching
strategies and approaches designed to advance children's understanding
of forces and thus provides useful background to the study.
The outcomes of the research work are detailed in the next three
chapters of the report. In the pre-intervention phase pencil and
paper 'concept problems', supported by practical activities, were
administered by teachers working in their own classes. Selected
children were then interviewed about their responses by researchers.
The findings from this phase were discussed and possible intervention
activities were identified. Teachers then used this information
in planning their teaching, which varied from class to class.
The basis for decisions as to what was appropriate in individual
circumstances is not described. What is reported are examples
of what children were asked to do and the resulting product, in
the form or writing or drawing. In the post-intervention phase,
changes in children's thinking were explored by repeating the
process of using written probes and interviews. Within the general
area of 'forces' five themes were explored both pre- and post-intervention.
These were: the effects of forces, gravity, friction and air resistance,
reaction forces and multiple forces. Unlike previous studies which
were limited to the primary age range, this work extends to Key
Stage 3 (lower secondary), allowing a broader perspective to be
taken on the development of ideas. The final chapter draw conclusions
from the work and makes recommendations.
It is made clear that this is not a study of the effect of precisely
targeted interventions on learning. Nevertheless the interventions
employed by teachers were intended to have an effect on children's
thinking about forces and motion. Everyday life provides children,
from an early age, with a wealth of experience of the behaviour
of moving objects and the factors which affect it. Primary pedagogy,
which tends to place great importance on the provision of direct
physical experience in learning, can provide opportunities for
that experience to be systematically explored and investigated.
The interventions which are documented here tend to suggest that
teachers chose to work largely at this level. Intervention is
described as 'a phase in which teachers help children transform
and develop their understanding' (p.35). Teachers ,offered children
experiences which gave them an opportunity to reflect on their
ideas, test them out, discuss them and amend, reject or retain
them' (p. 10). The problem, in learning about forces, is that
the scientific explanatory ideas used to account for observations
made are abstract and frequently appear counter to common sense.
Providing children with experiences of phenomena and events, focusing
their attention on salient features, and asking questions in the
hope that they will develop a scientific understanding is, therefore,
not sufficient. However much they explore and develop their own
ideas, argue the evidence for them and write and draw about them,
and however valuable this may be in terms of developing associated
skills, without the introduction of new ideas children's thinking
is confined by the ideas they already have, either individually
or as a group. A view of science teaching as a process of enculturation
into a different way of thinking about the world necessitates
the use of classroom strategies which allow new ideas to be introduced,
explained, explored and used. Although it is stated that teachers
ensured that different sources of knowledge were made accessible'
(p.39) little mention is made of teachers themselves 'offering'
children ideas as well as experiences. Some interventions did
include the use of, for example, secondary sources such as video,
or bridging analogies and there is one reference to the direct
introduction, during a class discussion, of the idea of mass as
distinct from weight. However, the effectiveness of such strategies
cannot be assessed from the data provided. Interestingly, despite
the fact that this work extended into Key Stage 3, few interventions
at years 7-9 are reported. It might be expected that more teacher
explanation and exposition would be encountered here and contrasts
in the styles of teaching of similar concepts at different Key
Stages could be highlighted and analysed. Surprisingly, in view
of the apparent recognition that verbal interactions play a significant
role in the construction of new ideas, very little teacher-pupil
dialogue is reported and no pupil-pupil discussion.
In the final chapter some useful general ideas about the development
of children's understanding and the implications for long-term
curriculum sequencing are outlined. The work of Karmiloff-Srnith
(1992) and Lee and Karmiloff-Smith (1996) is drawn on in the report
both to Justify the use of teaching strategies which allow children
to represent their ideas in different ways, and to discuss the
use of symbols to represent and communicate ideas. Primary teachers
are often concerned about whether and when to introduce formal
symbols such as arrow notation, and vocabulary such as 'force'
or ,gravity'. The fact that children are exposed to both the words
and the symbols in everyday life adds to the problem. A common
source of confusion for children, which is not mentioned, is that
arrows are often used to indicate the direction of movement of
an object, rather than the direction of a force. Some of the problems
and benefits of using arrow symbols to represent forces are explored.
Issues of language, which are arguably more significant in terms
of shaping thinking, are briefly discussed. The chapter ends with
some suggestions for sequencing aspects of the curriculum. SPACE
reports have proved a useful source of information about children's
ideas for student teachers, teachers - especially those on advanced
courses, and researchers. This report is no exception and will
be a useful addition to the library. However it is not clear to
which audience the book is addressed and some readers may find
it falls short of their expectations. Teachers will again recognise
similarities to their own children and their own practice, though
inevitably questions arise about the interpretation of children's
responses, particularly from drawings. Readers who themselves
feel insecure about their understanding of forces may find it
difficult to decide whether responses are acceptable or not, especially
when they may be partially scientifically correct. The report
provides a useful account of the type of activities which may
be seen in the classes of informed primary teachers and gives
an indication of what it might be reasonable to expect of children.
However, as guide to how best to maximise children's learning,
either in terms of the selection, sequencing or use of activities,
it is limited, as children's progress cannot be attributed to
specific teaching actions. Further work needs to be done in this
area. The project itself must have generated vast amounts of data,
for example on classroom interactions, teacher thinking and development,
and specific targeted interventions, to which Justice cannot have
been done in this book. Publications on. for example, classroom
approaches, are promised and will be welcomed by teachers. A more
detailed exploration of the data from the theoretical perspectives
outlined would be both interesting and of value to researchers.
Four more SPACE project reports are listed under 'forthcoming
titles'. Perhaps some of the issues raised by this publication
will be explored and developed in them.
Beyond Modularity: a developmental perspective on
. MIT Press.
K and KARMILOFF-SMITH A. (1996) The development of external symbol
systems: the child as notator. In Gelman R. and Kit-Fong Au T.
Perceptual and cognitive development.
PRIMARY SCIENCE (1993) Collins Educational.
Primary Science Review
This report will be of interest to both primary school class teachers
and students in initial teacher education. As with previous SPACE
reports, the aim is to find out what effective ways there are
for helping children to gain an understanding of some fundamental
scientific ideas - in this instance relating to forces. The work
has been firmly based in the classroom involving teachers as fully
as possible and providing training and support as needed.
The report follows the same format as previous ones. The introduction
gives the background to the project, whilst chapter 2 provides
the detail of the methodology: pre-intervention elicitation and
interviews, intervention, post-intervention elicitation and interviews.
Chapter 3 is a literature review of teaching and learning about
forces. This provides very helpful insight into the difficulties
children have had in developing an understanding of forces. The
chapter is structured in a useful way to include:
summary of research approaches to the elicitation of children's
of children's ideas;
and student teachers will find this a useful review and it will
help with the planning of activities for children.
Chapters 4 to 7 describe the research and conclusion. This agrees
with previous research that it is essential to introduce children
to the idea of force from a young age. The data comparing the
pre- and post-intervention understanding of the children are helpful,
particularly for student teachers coming to terms with their own
misconceptions as well as dealing with those of children.
The inclusion in the appendix of the examples of the concept probes
and the extracts of children's work provide a very useful insight
into children's understanding.
The report confirms that children do find the whole area of forces
abstract and complex. This is in some ways reassuring to teachers,
particularly those who feel their own scientific knowledge in
this area weak.
I look forward to the remaining reports being published as they
provide valuable information on children's understanding of science.
Liverpool University Press Book Reviews
This is the tenth book in a series by the Primary SPACE (Science
Processes and Concept Exploration) Project. It aims to understand
the development of young children's ides of forces, from research
involving 19 teachers from 15 schools with children in Key Stages
1-3. Forces has been regarded as a difficult area of the National
Curriculum for both teachers and children, and this report contributes
to our understanding of the teaching and learning of this area.
The report discusses, first the methodology and the research design
of the project. It then explains how activities (concept probes)
were structured for the elicitation of children's ideas, followed
by the description of the teaching approach (intervention) planned
by the researchers and carried out by the teachers. The next chapter
discusses children's ideas before and after the intervention together
with extracts from what children said, wrote or drew. It provides
valuable information about children's thinking about forces. Here,
the authors begin to explore the issue of conceptual progression
in children's learning. This issue is discussed in more detail
in the last chapter of the report, which also makes claims about
the effectiveness of the project's teaching approach for children's
learning in science.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the report is the fifth chapter,
which describes the intervention phase. It gives some indication
of the activities used and the ways they were used by the teachers
who took part in the study. It also includes a sense of the outcomes
of those activities. Primary teachers may find it helpful to refer
to the ideas for classroom practical activities in this section.
Soil and Weather
Primary Science Review
29 October 1993
Max de Bóo
latest report from SPACE (Science Processes and Concept Exploration)
gives another clear account of the collaborative research conducted
by the project research team and class and advisory teachers.
Children's ideas about 'rocks, soil and weather' were sought,
followed by an intervention period when they were encouraged to
test their, and other, ideas out and subsequently questioned again.
The researchers collected a band of data that is categorized and
compared, with itself, and with received scientific opinions such
as geologists' definitions of soil and its origins.
The report gives a good clear description of the methods, children
9aged from 5 to 11) and themes chosed, and makes relevant references
to the National Curriculum for Science and previous research in
this area. It quites many of the children's responses, which will
sound familiar to anyone used to hearing children express their
ideas. The authors themselves refer to the 'semantic complexities'
they have to unravel in the usage of the words. It is this very
complexity that can make assessment of children's learning so
difficult to undertake in the classroom and make such a nonsense
of simplistic testing superimposed from outside.
In this case, it is made clear how children's comments are evaluated,
and how drawings were utilized to assess the nature of their conceptual
understanding. There are delightful reproductions of children's
drawings such as vertical sections through the Earth, the weather
The section on intervention gives detaisl on how teachers provided
children with opportunities to investigate and discuss their own
ideas, modify and generalize, try out activities leading to the
'right' ideas, read, research and discuss the findings. This is
a rich source of practical activities (neatly summarized in the
appendix) for other teachers to use with their children. The report
then compares the children's post-intervention ideas with their
earlier ones and notes any changes that have taken place, that
is, what may have been learned through intervention.
While I feel concerned about generalizing from such small samples
(10 per cent can sound substantial but we may be talking about
only two children), there is such a dearth of research in this
area, that this report gives us much-needed insight into children's
ides which we can use to good effect in our own teaching. The
report contains information which could be valuable to schools,
science coordinators and advisory teachers. In-house INSET on
science could be generated by staff reading the excellent summary
at the end of the report and discussing the implications it has
for how we approach teaching and learning earth science, discussions
which would be supported by the information on conventional terminology