A Longitudinal Study of Alternative Frameworks in School Biology

Young, Margaret Paterson (1986) A Longitudinal Study of Alternative Frameworks in School Biology. MSc(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The following research study is concerned with childrens' natural ideas and beliefs in the area of the life concept. Previous research work has shown that many children form their own theories to explain things in the world around them. These mini-theories are called alternative frameworks because they may differ from the accepted scientific theory. They are very persistent and they may interfere with school learning. This study was carried out in order to discover whether children have alternative frameworks in the area of the life concept and to find out if children of different ages are able to classify correctly certain objects as living or non-living. The attributes of life which children give to a living thing were also examined. Firstly, a Pilot Study was carried out to find out if there were any erroneous ideas present in childrens' minds. Four groups of children, whose ages ranged from 5 to 10 years were allowed to discuss a variety of objects in an informal way; they had to say whether each object was living or not living and to give reasons for their decision. From this study it emerged that alternative frameworks were present at all age levels and that some children believed that certain non-living objects were living because of the attributes which they possessed. The main part of the research, the School Study, involved about 800 pupils in the age range 7 to 11 years from six Primary schools. A work-sheet was designed for the purpose of obtaining information from the pupils. It contained a box-grid with 16 objects, some questions relating to the grid, one question about microscopic things and one about attributes. Several children, mainly pupils aged 7, were also interviewed and their answers were noted. The results showed that nearly every child is certain that animals are living and most children also believe that plants and trees are living. Many children were not sure that mould is living and they had difficulty in suggesting life attributes for it. Only a small percentage of children believe that a potato and fruit are living and many children included them in the category "not living now but came from a living thing"; many children, even at age 11, do not have a concept of dormant life. Many children, the highest percentage being at age 7, included crystals as being living. Their reasons were that crystals grow and look like plants. 50% of children at ages 8,9 and 10 still believe that the sun is livng because it moves and gives light. Similarly, some children at every age level believe that a flame is living because it possesses heat and movement. About 16% of children at every age level included a battery as being living and a few children, aged 7 and under, believed that a clock is living because it "goes" or "works". Many children were able to place meat in the correct category "not living now, but came from a living thing". However, a high percentage of children, except at age 11, do not know the origin of bread, leather or sugar. 50% of children at all age levels have the erroneous belief that the particles inside a substance are living, probably because of their movement In addition, many children do not class microscopic plants as being living. When asked to describe a living thing, most children do not give any of the seven accepted attributes of living things except movement. "Eating" and "Senses" were included fairly frequently. Most children, even at age 11, do not give the attributes reproduction, breathing, growing or excretion. Instead, they include many attributes which pertain to a large, furry animal. If large numbers of children aged 11 have these alternative frameworks, then they are not ready to proceed with a Biology course at Secondary school. They will view teaching about living things and about attributes with surprise and they may not accommodate the new information into their minds. They may simply rote-leam it in order to pass exams. Teachers need to be made aware that alternative frameworks exist in many school-children and the teachers should try to expose these erroneous beliefs before presenting pupils with the correct facts. Pupils in Secondary school should be tested regularly using Diagnostic testing to find out whether they are still retaining any alternative frameworks, before they receive formal instruction in Biology. Then learning will be meaningful and facts will be remembered.

Item Type: Thesis (MSc(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Science education
Date of Award: 1986
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1986-77466
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2020 09:07
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2020 09:07
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/77466

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