Internet vs. Matter: Differences in Students’ Concept Development from Elementary through High School

Internet vs. Matter: Differences in Students’ Concept Development from Elementary through High School

Zheng Yan, Xiufeng Liu
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/ijcbpl.2012100105
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Internet is an emerging complex scientific concept that children have not yet systematically learned in schools but continuously experience in their daily lives. In contrast, matter is a classic complex scientific concept that children systematically study from elementary through high school in addition to continuous everyday experiences. In this study, with two independent samples of grades 4-12 students, the authors deliberately compared these two concepts to understand the effects of formal and informal learning experiences. Understandings of Internet and matter were measured and then converted into a same interval scale through Rasch modeling. Results show that the development of Internet understanding has a much lower rate than that matter and the development of Internet understanding shows more heterogeneous than that of matter. These findings suggest that formal learning helps increase the students’ understanding growth rate while reduce variation in understanding among students.
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Studying how school students understand complex scientific concepts such as Internet or matter has been an important and productive area of research in both science education and developmental science (e.g., Chi, 2005; Hmelo-Silver & Pfeffer, 2004; Hmelo, Holton, & Kolodner, 2000; Jacobson & Archodidou, 2000; Jacobson & Wilensky, 2006; Penner, 2000; Resnick, 1995; Resnick & Wilensky, 1998).

In science education, research on student alternative conceptions of various science concepts is a well-established domain, known as the Alternative Conceptions Movement (ACM) (Wandersee, Mintzes, & Novak, 1994). One of important findings of ACM is that “students’ alternative conceptions are tenacious and resistant to change, even when sustained, high-quality conventional instruction is offered to able, highly motivated, and well-prepared students” (Wandersee et al., 1994, p. 186). In order to further understand how school students develop scientific concepts, science educators have begun to examine students’ concept development in the long-term. One particular approach to studying students’ concept development is to incorporate developmental theories to look at the degree to which students’ concept development is due to developmental constraint. For example, Liu and McKeough (2005) applied Case’s staircase developmental stage theory (Case, 1992, 1998) to examine students’ concept development on energy from elementary to high school. They found that there existed clear stage-like development of the energy concept that parallels the general stages of students’ psychological development, suggesting a strong effect of development and informal science learning. However, in another series of study on students’ concept development on matter from elementary through high school, Liu and colleagues (Liu & Lesniak, 2005, 2006) were unable to identify this similar stage-like development patter. Instead, they found that the change pattern was more gradual and holistic, suggesting effects of formal science learning at school.

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