Mental Models of the Day/Night Cycle
This article presents the results of an experiment which investigated elementary school children's explanations of the day/night cycle. First, third, and fifth grade children were asked to explain certain phenomena, such as the disappearance of the sun during the night, the disappearance of stars during the day, the apparent movement of the moon, and the alteration of day and night. The results showed that the majority of the children in our sample used in a consistent fashion a small number of relatively well-defined mental models of the earth, the sun, and the moon to explain the day/night cycle. These mental models of the day/night cycle were empirically accurate, logically consistent and revealed some sensitivity on the part of the children to issues of simplicity of explanation. The younger children formed Initial mental models which provided explanations of the day/night cycle based on everyday experience (e.g., the sun goes down behind mountains, clouds cover up the sun). The older children constructed synthetic mental models (e.g., the sun and the moon revolve around the stationary earth every 24 hours; the earth rotates in an up/down direction and the sun and moon are fixed on opposite sides) which represented attempts to synthesize the culturally accepted view with aspects of their Initial models. A few of the older children appeared to have constructed a mental model of the day/night cycle similar to the scientific one. A theoretical framework is outlined which explains the formation of initial, synthetic, and scientific models of the day/night cycle in terms of the reinterpretation of a hierarchy of constraints, some of which are present early in the child's life, and others which emerge later out of the structure of the acquired knowledge.
Vosniadou, S., & Brewer, W. F. (1994). Mental Models of the Day/Night Cycle. Cognitive Science, 18(1), 123–183. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15516709cog1801_4
Type of Publication
Vosniadou, Stella | Brewer, William F.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | University of Athens
Nation(s) of Study
United States of America