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Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom : a multimodal analysis of conceptual change and the significance of gesture

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posted on 10.04.2014, 08:28 by Carol Jane Callinan
Constructivism remains one of the most influential views of understanding how children learn science today. Research investigating learning from within this viewpoint has led to the development of a range of theoretical models, most of which aim to explain the underlying processes associated with conceptual change. Such models range in depth and scope with some attributing change to purely cognitive processes while others suggest a role for social factors. Contemporary research has also begun to explore links between the role of practical activity, skills development and language. This study utilises a cross-sectional design in order to investigate the development of children’s ideas and concepts related to two areas of the English National Curriculum for Science: ‘electricity’ and ‘floating and sinking’. A new and innovative multimodal methodology combining practical science activities and traditional / conventional perspectives alongside interview and observational protocols is presented. Multimodal research proposes that knowledge and meaning are transmitted through a range of responses types including language, drawings and gesture. The participants in this study were children aged 7, 11 and 14 years attending four schools in the East Midlands region. Results demonstrate that the children’s ideas could be developed using conceptual challenge tasks. The gestures that the children produced were categorised according to five different forms: referential, representative, expressive, thinking and social, often containing information about their science ideas that was not included in other response types. The results also begin to uncover how meaning is socially constructed and supported. These results form the basis of a critique of methodology intended to re-evaluate and inform debate arising from different models of conceptual change. The potential importance of studying children’s gestures in classroom settings for providing important cues and clues to underlying thoughts that may not be present in verbal or other more conventional responses alone is highlighted.



Sharp, John

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School of Education

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University of Leicester

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