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Switching between everyday and scientific language

Blown, Eric and Bryce, Thomas (2017) Switching between everyday and scientific language. Research in Science Education, 47 (3). pp. 621-653. ISSN 1573-1898

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The research reported here investigated the everyday and scientific repertoires of children involved in semi-structured, Piagetian interviews carried out to check their understanding of dynamic astronomical concepts like daytime and night-time. It focused on the switching taking place between embedded and disembedded thinking; on the imagery which subjects referred to in their verbal dialogue and their descriptions of drawings and play-dough models of the Earth, Sun and Moon; and it examined the prevalence and character of animism and figurative speech in children’s thinking. Five hundred and thirty-nine children (aged 3–18) from Wairarapa in New Zealand (171 boys and 185 girls) and Changchun in China (99 boys and 84 girls) took part in the study. Modified ordinal scales for the relevant concept categories were used to classify children’s responses and data from each age group (with numbers balanced as closely as practicable by culture and gender) analysed with Kolmogorov-Smirnov two-sample tests (at an alpha level of 0.05). Although, in general, there was consistency of dynamic concepts within and across media and their associated modalities in keeping with the theory of conceptual coherence (see Blown and Bryce 2010; Bryce and Blown 2016), there were several cases of inter-modal and intra-modal switching in both cultures. Qualitative data from the interview protocols revealed how children switch between everyday and scientific language (in both directions) and use imagery in response to questioning. The research indicates that children’s grasp of scientific ideas in this field may ordinarily be under-estimated if one only goes by formal scientific expression and vocabulary.