New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

Primary School Students’ Ideas of the Day/Night Cycle and alteration of Seasons: An Exploration of Inconsistencies in Students’ Responses

Nikolaos Fotou, University of Lincoln (United Kingdom)


Since the early 80s, a significant part of research in science education has focused on identifying students’ ideas across a wide range of scientific topics and ages. This research has found that children form ideas about several physical phenomena at a very early age, before receiving any formal education, from events they experience and observe every day in the natural world. These ideas are usually in conflict with the scientific account and have thus been termed as mis-, alternative, pre-, pre-instructional, prior, naive and intuitive conceptions. Amongst the topics that have received attention is that of elementary astronomy which has been seen as a fruitful and attractive area in investigating how students, especially of younger age, combine practical observation of their own world with views that they have been taught, cultural artefacts and information, developing thus their ideas and understanding of related phenomena. The present paper presents the results of a study which investigated Greek primary school children’s ideas about day/night cycle and alteration of seasons. A total number of 35 students from the fifth and sixth year of their primary education were asked to explain these two astronomical events and provide a drawing of their ideas. Their ideas and drawings revealed considerable apparent inconsistencies in terms of related concepts like the shape of Earth and its motion. For example, many of the students expressed the idea that the Earth is moving relative to the Sun to explain the day and night cycle but stated that the seasonal cycle is the result of the Sun moving relative to the Earth. A great deal of this apparent inconsistency could be explained by the Knowledge-in-Pieces (KiP) framework, according to which knowledge is viewed as a complex system composed of fundamental elements that are cued into an active state in response to a question, and its context, thus giving rise to students’ ideas. The paper discusses students’ ideas in these two basic astronomical events while also draws on the KiP framework and knowledge elements identified in the literature to account for the inconsistencies in students' ideas of day/night cycle and alteration of seasons. The findings of the study underscore the need to further examine the role of the knowledge students bring with them to learning events, in and outside the science classroom, and how this knowledge is likely to affect their understanding of phenomena.

Keywords: Misconceptions, P-Prims, Elementary Astronomy, Primary Students’ Ideas.

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