Children’s knowledge of earth has the potential to shed light on their understanding of scientific concepts in the young age. Researchers have claimed that children construct mental models of earth which are coherent in nature. However, the understanding of earth of children is related to their age as has been indicated in recent research and the older children demonstrate better understanding of the spherical shape of earth whereas younger children believes earth to be disc shaped. This study establishes this fact by testing 214 children, out of which 107 are younger (5 to 6 years in age) and 107 are older (8 to 9 years in age). The younger children possess incoherent views about earth while older children are more scientific in their research. Panagiotaki, Nobes and Banerjee (2006) also demonstrated that forced-choice questions in comparison to open-ended question yields more correct responses which, however is not found in this study.
Vosniadou and Brewer (1992) used a structured interview technique that included asking children to draw their conception of the earth, with first to fifth grade children. The children’s conceptions seemed to reflect attempts to reconcile conflicting notions. Children would draw a flattened sphere with people standing on top, or a hollow sphere with a horizontal platform inside for people to stand on, or even dual earths, one round and one flat. Some cultural influences have also been observed. Indian children tend to believe that the earth is supported by a body of water, a notion that is not observed in American or Australian children (Samarapungavan, Vosniadou, & Brewer, 1996). This is possibly because there is a strong logic inherent in the nature of the earth and its relations to other cosmological bodies, as well as to such phenomena as the day-night cycle, seasons and the effect of gravity.
Vosniadou and Brewer found evidence of mental models with some degree of coherence. If children thought that the earth was spherical, they were less likely to think it was possible to fall off the edge. However, the mental models interpretation has been challenged by Nobes et al (2003), who found fragmented knowledge with 4 to 8 years old. Fragmentation may be typical of young children’s conceptions, but on theoretical grounds it is hard to see how a concept of the earth could develop without some conceptual coherence. The findings by Hayes, Goodhew, Heit, and Gillan (2003) that children only progressed toward a spherical conception of the earth if they received instruction about both the size of the earth and the gravity; seems to be consistent with coherence theoretical view.
In problem solving situations, individuals generate mental models as representation of with the structure of domain-specific concepts. Through mental models, casual explanations of physical phenomena, as well as predictions are provided. Mental models are beliefs that are generated by observation or information given in the cultural contexts. Children’s initial mental model of earth is that of a flat, supported, and stable physical object, with the sky and sun located above. The synthetic mental model of the dual earth is generated when children reconcile the flat and spherical models of earth without abandoning any presupposition of their framework theory underlying the flat model.
The consistency of answers might also be the function of method of questioning adopted. Vosniadou, Skopeliti, and Ikospentaki (2004) found that forced choice questioning increased the number of scientifically correct answers, but they were more internal consistency among answers elicited by an open method.
This research paper follows the work of Panagiotaki, Nobes and Banerjee (2006) and conducts the study on 214 children, segregated in two categories, one older (8-9 years of age) and older (5-6 years of age). The two modes of questioning from children have been adopted in this paper, open and forced-ended questions. The aim of this research is that forced-ended question results in more responses in comparison to open questions.
The participants were 214 children, of whom 101 were male and 113 were female. The children were recruited from two age groups; a ‘younger’ group of 107 who were aged between 5 and 6, and an ‘older’ group of 107 who were aged between 8 and 9. The children were recruited and interviewed by students enrolled in PSY2231 Developmental Psychology.
Materials and Design
Children were assigned to one of two modes of questioning based on Panagiotaki, Nobes and Banerjee (2006). One mode used open questions, whereas the other used forced-choice questions. The interview schedule for each mode of questioning is shown in Appendix A.
Once informed consent was acquired from parents or guardians, children were interviewed in individual sessions. Data were coded according to a highly simplified scheme adapted from Panagiotaki, Nobes and Banerjee (2006). If the child answered all the questions correctly, he or she was classified as having a ‘Consistent Scientific’ model of the earth. Incorrect answers resulted in the child’s responses being coded as ‘Inconsistent or non-scientific’ model.
This study has been conducted to ascertain the impact of method of questioning on the responses of children of their conception of earth and their responses are more scientific with the advancement of the age of children. To analyze the data, the hypotheses which are formed are:
H1: Older children make more scientific responses in comparison to younger children
H0: Older children do not make more scientific responses in comparison to younger children
Previous studies suggest that forced-ended questions results in more correct responses than open-ended questions. This study test the data obtained to confirm the results of the previous studies, hence
H2: Forced-choice questions get more scientific responses from children
H0: The responses of children are not affected by questions being forced-ended.
Data Analysis Method
Chi square analysis is being used to analyze the data. This method is being used here as the data is categorical and not group means. The data is available in the form of set of mutually exclusive classes and the numbers have been counted of items which fit in each class. Runyon et al. (2000) give the example of asking a number of students what they are majoring in. The responses (scientific versus inconsistent/non-scientific) are independent of age group (older or younger*) and of method of data collection (open questions versus forced choice questions).
The findings suggest that the children’s responses were not related to the method of questioning adopted. However their responses did seem to be related to their age. Children in the younger group made more responses that were classified as inconsistent or non-scientific, and fewer scientific responses, whereas children in the older group made more scientific responses and fewer inconsistent or non-scientific responses.
The study investigated the relationship of age of children with their conception of earth and also tested the influence of method of questioning on the responses of children about earth. The relationship between the research questions, framed to assess the impact of method of questioning on responses of children was assumed to be positive based on prior research. It was evident from the data that older children made scientific responses and younger children were incoherent in their responses. Hence, it was anticipated that older children would demonstrate better knowledge of earth in comparison to younger children.
The findings of the study related to age were coherent with the assumption that older children (8 to 9 years of age) have more scientific notion of earth in comparison to younger children (5 to 6 years of age). The result of the study does not support the second hypothesis, that forced-choice questions leads to more correct responses from children. The data gathered could not establish any relationship between the method of questioning and correct response rate of children.
Our study establishes that younger children less scientific concept of earth while older children display an increased level of earth’s conception. This has been researched and stated by many researchers (Diakidoy et al., 1997; Nussbaum & Novak, 1976; Vosniadou, 1994; Vosniadou & Brewer, 1992, 1994) that younger children of age from 5 to 7 years don’t form a spherical mental model of earth. They perceive that earth is flat or disc-shaped as they see it from their view. The mental model also states that children at this age have incoherent ideas about earth and most of the children believe earth to be flat in this age. Benson and Haith (2009) also mentions that young children’s understanding of physical phenomena is influenced by their ability to deal with complexity and the ability to deal with extra variables increases with age.
Both, open-ended questions and forced-choice questions were deployed for this study and it was expected that results obtained would by similar to the study of Panagiotaki, Nobes and Banerjee (2006) and Vosniadou, Skopeliti, and Ikospentaki (2004) who found that forced-choice questions yield more correct responses from children. However, our study did not find any relation between the responses of the children and the method of questions. The rationale behind both; Panagiotaki, Nobes and Banerjee (2006) and Vosniadou, Skopeliti, and Ikospentaki (2004) arriving at similar results may lie in the structure and content of their questionnaire. The questions asked by both researchers in forced-choice questions were almost same and were based on Forced choice questionnaire and open-ended questionnaire used by Vosniadou and Brewer (1992) and Siegel et al (2004). The questionnaires were modified very little and hence, the results obtained were similar though the studies were conducted on different set of children in different conditions. Our mode of questioning were based on Panagiotaki, Nobes and Banerjee (2006) but our instrument were independently designed which led to it yielding independent results. This statement here presents a further scope of research wherein the research may test the results derived from using two sets of questionnaires on same group. The results obtained depend on the questions asked during the interview as has been researched that children also give incoherent answer due to non-understanding the question.
This study has yielded some results which are not in concurrence with the results of earlier studies. This may results from the method adopted to conduct the study.
The method of interviewing children as used by Vosniadou et al (Vosniadou & Brewer, 1992; Vosniadou et al, 2004) represents some problems. The interview involves repeated enquiry from children on one single question, molded in different forms. This method can confuse young children as they are not capable of handling several variables simultaneously. Another potential problem is that children may not completely understand the words in interview and this may lead to incoherent replies. Forced-choice questions involve one intuitive and one scientific question and hence, this makes the questionnaire biased towards scientific approach of children. Moreover, this questionnaire compels children to adopt a scientific children while replying which is different from mental model approach. This also leads to children replying more scientifically and forming correct replies as they have only two options and no explanation or drawing or conceptualization is required. Hence, both open-ended and forced-choice questionnaire have possible error sources which demonstrate the possibility on incorrect data gathering technique. While performing this study, there is a scope of performing these errors. The rationale of maintaining eye contact with children while interviewing may not completely justify the responses to be correct.
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