This paper is concerned with highlighting young children's ideas about the nature, location and appearance of germs, as well as their reasoning strands about germs' ontological category and biological functions. Moreover, it is concerned with exploring how all these could be taken into account for shaping a potentially fruitful learning environment. Conducting individual, semi-structured interviews with 35 preschoolers (age 4.5-5.5) of public kindergartens in the broader area of Patras, we attempted to trace their ideas about what germs are, where they may be found, whether they are good or bad and living or non-living and how they might look like in a drawing. Moreover, children were required to attribute a series of biological functions to dogs, chairs and germs, and finally to create a story with germs holding a key-role. The analysis of our qualitative data within the "NVivo" software showed that the informants make a strong association of germs with health and hygiene issues, locate germs mostly in our body and the external environment, are not familiar with the 'good germs'-idea, and draw germs as 'human-like', 'animal-like' or 'abstract' entities. Moreover, they have significant difficulties not only in employing biological functions as criteria for classifying germs in the category of 'living', but also in just attributing such functions to germs using a warrant. Finally, the shift from our findings to a 3-part learning environment aiming at supporting preschoolers in refining their initial conceptualization of germs is thoroughly discussed in the paper.
The aim of this research was the conceptual change and transformation of the intuitive conceptions ofpreschoolers concerning life through a cognitive -conflict teaching intervention. Young children use the criterion of movement to justify the classification of objects as living or non-living, that is classify plants as non-living because they are immobile and mobile non-alive objects as living. The concept oflife includes many sub-concepts and movement is a secondary and not a universal characteristic of living organisms. The subjects of this research were chosen according to their replies concerning the classification of plants as non-living. Subjects of the experimental group received a teaching intervention aiming at the change of their conceptual context about life and focusing mainly at the dependence of an organism to its environment. In the teaching intervention we used the procedure of cognitive conflict through the juxtaposition of live organisms to dead ones and mobile simulations. Our results show that all the children of experimental group presented a conceptual change classifying the plant as alive and using explanations including the dependence on environment and otherfunctions, increasing the number ofcriteria used for justification ofthe animal as living.
This paper reports on a case study with three dyads of high school students (age 14 years) each collaborating on a plant growth modeling task in the computer-supported educational environment 'ModelsCreator'. Following a qualitative line of research, the present study aims at highlighting the ways in which the collaborating students as well as the facilitator who supported them are engaged in the computer-based modeling 'activity'. The analysis is carried out with a two-level analytic tool that has been derived within the theoretical framework of 'activity theory'. Our results show that a wide range of modeling 'operations' is activated in the context of the three major modeling 'actions' of 'analysis', 'synthesis' and 'testing-interpreting', which take place in the light of the facilitator-driven 'action' of cognitive and technical support. Moreover, these actions are combined into 'modeling units' of various forms which are repeated several times until the modeling process comes to an end. These many-fold repeats of the 'modeling unit' appear to shape a pattern which characterizes the computer-supported shared 'activity' as a whole.
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