Manipulating models and grasping the ideas they represent

Bryce, T. G K and Blown, E. J. (2016) Manipulating models and grasping the ideas they represent. Science and Education, 25 (1-2). pp. 47-93. ISSN 0926-7220

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    This article notes the convergence of recent thinking in neuroscience and grounded cognition regarding the way we understand mental representation and recollection: ideas are dynamic and multi-modal, actively created at the point of recall. Also, neurophysiologically, re-entrant signalling among cortical circuits allows non-conscious processing to support our deliberative thoughts and actions. The qualitative research we describe examines the exchanges occurring during semi-structured interviews with 360 children age 3–13, including 294 from New Zealand (158 boys, 136 girls) and 66 from China (34 boys, 32 girls) concerning their understanding of the shape and motion of the Earth, Sun and Moon (ESM). We look closely at the relationships between what is revealed as children manipulate their own play-dough models and their apparent understandings of ESM concepts. In particular, we focus on the switching taking place between what is said, what is drawn and what is modelled. The evidence is supportive of Edelman’s view that memory is non-representational and that concepts are the outcome of perceptual mappings, a view which is also in accord with Barsalou’s notion that concepts are simulators or skills which operate consistently across several modalities. Quantitative data indicate that the dynamic structure of memory/concept creation is similar in both genders and common to the cultures/ethnicities compared (New Zealand European and Māori; Chinese Han) and that repeated interviews in this longitudinal research lead to more advanced modelling skills and/or more advanced shape and motion concepts, the results supporting hypotheses (Kolmogorov–Smirnov alpha levels.05; rs: p < .001).