Kids Do Science By Themselves from Infancy

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GCSE Science By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Science » GCSE Science
Last updated: 13/03/2018
Tags: experimentation, misconceptions, observations, science, understanding

I am not talking about 3 or 4 year olds running around the house with a chemistry set, blowing things up - but kids love playing with bubbles, they are fascinated by all sorts of substances and how they react, they are nosy about cooking, they test out their own hypothesises and of course without even considering it they have their daily biological functions, they are subject to the laws of physics and their own bodies house millions of chemical reactions a day.

Whatever interests a child they will discover some science all by themselves. From infancy children will develop ideas about the world around them. They see how the world around them works and they make their own deductions. For example - by repeatedly dropping playthings children will naturally conclude that objects fall towards the ground. They have discovered gravity, despite not being told anything about it.

From their own observations and from what they see in books, film and television they develop strong constructs. In some cases the ideas developed can be wrong. If you ask a child to draw a balloon - in most cases they will draw a latex balloon, tied with a string and filled with helium. However, I would assume that in most households, balloons are filled using a person's lungs and not a helium tank that has been stashed in a cupboard, ready to be whipped out at a 5 year old's whim. So why do so many children carry this image through to secondary school? In addition to this idea that all balloons float, most students believe that gases are weightless or in fact lighter than air - despite knowing that air is actually made of a mixture of gases. I once asked a year 7 class whether blowing up a balloon (using my lungs) would make it heavier or lighter. Almost all of them said (incorrectly) that it would be lighter. So why is this important? It's only one non-consequential idea. It's not as if a GCSE paper is going to ask the students to draw a balloon. The problem is that students can hold dozens of misconceptions, and hold them strongly until they are actively dispelled. This just happens to be just one example that I rather like (because most adults like to draw the helium balloon too).

When students are taught facts contradictory to what they already believe, even if they do not contest what we are telling them, children do not suddenly change how they think about a pre-existing idea. This means that any application of knowledge based on that concept is not possible as the student will revert to prior knowledge. For example you could tell a class that what we exhale contains a larger proportion of carbon dioxide than what we inhale and carbon dioxide is heavier than air - but due to the strongly held misconception many will still tell you that blowing up a balloon will make it lighter. You need to prove to them that it is in fact heavier - only then does it become easy to remember that gases have mass.

The ideas that children have developed come from years of their own deductions so it's no surprise that a couple of hours a week of science lessons is not always enough to modify their thinking. Ideas stored in their long term memory can be hard to shake. This is where tutoring is a great tool. Because a tutor can spend that one on one time with a child, the tutor can find out what the student actually knows, what they think they know and what they don't fully understand. Misconceptions can then be dispelled using experiences and ideas that challenge their existing way of thinking.

I hear you say, "Of course this is what an article on a tutoring website would say," - but this is also coming from a teaching perspective where in a class of 25 to 30 students a teacher does not have the time in a lesson to check that every single child fully understands every single concept taught, especially given the sheer volume of the curriculum. There is also the added complication that within a class some students are too shy or unsure of their own ideas to speak up, some are great at just 'blagging it' and on the flip side - some children understand quickly or even accept and learn a new idea immediately if they've never developed a misconception about it. With what can be a large range of abilities and a large range of differing experiences, imagine how difficult it can be for a teacher to know on which parts of the curriculum to focus the most time and energy.

However, despite developing misconceptions along the way, many of the scientific discoveries that children make themselves can be helpful when they learn GCSE science. Sometimes all they need is a way to name and scientifically accepted way to describe their own observations.  

Jessica Wong A-level Chemistry Tutor (South West London)

About The Author

As a qualified Science teacher with 5 years tutoring I strive to bring out the best in my students. I help to understand difficult concepts and provide a good base in order for students to cover the requirements of the examining board.

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