Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting

Baltimore, MD
Mar. 21-23, 2019
Conference Website

As research in human development expands, the need for coordination and integration among the disciplines grows. The Society is constantly working to facilitate such coordination and integration and to assist in the dissemination of research findings.

Thursday, March 21

Can Kindergarten Students Learn to Use Particle Models of Matter to Coherently Explain Varied Material Phenomena?

Ala Samarapungavan (Purdue University), Lynn Bryan (Purdue University), Carolyn Staudt

2:15 – 3:45 PM, Baltimore Convention Center, Level 3, Room 344

This study examines the development of explanatory coherence in kindergarten students’ use of particle models to explain the properties and behavior of matter in solid, liquid, and gas states, and phase changes such as melting. Kinetic molecular theory invokes the behaviors of unseen particles to explain material phenomena. However, young children interact with material phenomena at a macroscopic level and often form scientifically inaccurate ideas about matter, for example, that matter is continuous. Educators have traditionally held that the particulate nature of matter is too abstract to teach in the primary grades. In contrast, we draw upon several lines of developmental theory to argue for the value of introducing particle models of matter early. First, we note that students have pervasive difficulties in understanding kinetic molecular theory throughout formal schooling, suggesting that delayed instruction yields questionable benefits. The theory theory approach posits that young children have the cognitive machinery needed to represent abstract causal mechanisms. Additionally, we view development as culturally situated learning. Children learn by participating in culturally mediated/scaffolded practices of sense making around familiar phenomena. Early scaffolded instruction with (simplified) particle models can allow students to iteratively extend/refine models with schooling to foster explanatory coherence.

More Events