Pupils’ explanations of seasonal changes: age differences and the influence of teaching
Background. Pupils have consistent everyday astronomical explanations, some of which, e.g., distance theory, are very resistant to change. The reasons why everyday explanations are not replaced by scientific ones have been connected with teaching methods used in school.
Aims. The developmental differences in explaining seasonal changes and the reasons why school teaching fails in changing distance theory are studied.
Samples. The 112 schoolchildren participating in the study were: 32 pupils from each of grade 3 (age 9-10), grade 5 (age 11-12) and grade 7 (age 13-14) (half of them from a state school, others from Waldorf school) and 16 pupils from grade 9 (age 15-16). Half of the pupils were boys. The participants were divided into groups of four same-sex and same-grade pupils (i.e., into 28
Methods. Guided peer discussions in foursomes are used. Explanations of pupils of different ages and from two schools with different teaching methods are compared.
Results. The sources of references on which pupils based their explanations were divided into five categories: everyday, distance-theory, incomplete, exact rules and authoritative. It is shown that younger pupils refer more frequently to everyday perceptible data and older ones more to knowledge taught in school but using distance theory does not change with age. Differences between schools were determined.
Conclusions. Such an everyday explanation as distance theory is very vital as it is drawn from several everyday experiences with heat sources. It is used to explain seasonal changes as far as scientific explanations learnt in school have not been well understood or have been forgotten.