Conceptual coherence in the development of children's knowledge

Bryce, Tom and Blown, E. (2009) Conceptual coherence in the development of children's knowledge. In: ECER - The European Conference on Educational Research 2009, 2009-09-28 - 2009-09-30. (Unpublished) (

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An important issue in developmental research is whether children's ideas in a given domain display conceptual coherence or whether they constitute knowledge-in-pieces (see Vosniadou, 2008 and diSessa, 2008, respectively). Our earlier work (Bryce and Blown, 2006; 2007; Blown and Bryce, 2006) compared the broadly similar developmental patterns of boys and girls in two contrasting cultures (New Zealand and China) with regard to basic astronomy knowledge. The research revealed the extent of the developmental coherence of children's ideas looked at longitudinally. The current studies followed the same group of young people (those who were accessible, N = 345) for a further period of 5 years to investigate more advanced astronomical knowledge, including the dynamic concepts of the Earth's seasons and eclipses (requiring subjects to bring about a mental rotation of several objects; e.g., imagining the movements of the Earth and its Moon around the Sun). The study considered both the conventional view of a concept as a mental model or representation (Gentner & Stevens, 1983; Mandler, 1998) and newer interpretations of a concept as a skill; that is, regarding a concept as a creative ability rather than as a simple recall from memory (Barsalou, 2003). The investigations involved semi-structured, one-to-one, Piagetian interviews requiring the researcher to spend considerable periods of time in each country, enabling the young people involved to accept his presence, and interpreters and local assistants in the case of China in order to translate audio transcripts and maintain the necessary links and contacts with the participants in several school districts. This research involving in-depth, multi-media interviews certainly ties in with Barsalou's idea of a concept as a skill and, with it, the notion of conceptual coherence as an ability to consistently create more or less identical concepts using different media of representation involving different sensory modalities.