The Formation of Children's Conceptual Models Concerning a Particular Natural Phenomenon Using PICCO, a Pictorial Computer Simulation
This thesis describes the research, where the main idea was to study, whether a child's spontaneous and independent exploration using a pictorial computer based simulation of the selected natural phenomenon could support a child in the analysis and organization of the phenomenon, the construction of the interconnections and the structure of the phenomenon as a whole. The research questions concerned, the formation of a child's conceptual model of the selected natural phenomenon and a child's exploration strategies when a child explored the phenomenon using the pictorial computer simulation, PICCO. The chosen natural phenomenon for the simulation was the variations of sunlight and the heat of the sun experienced on the earth related to the positions of the Earth and the Sun in space. A conceptual model is seen as a mental construct which develops during a child's experience and active action, and which forms a basis for a child's cognitive activities concerning the phenomenon in question. In the research group there were eleven Finnish first-graders aged about seven years old. The children could explore the phenomenon using PICCO during a four week period in the afternoons in a day care centre. They had no formal instruction of the chosen natural phenomenon before or during the research period. The children's conceptual models of the phenomenon before the use of PICCO were at different levels. After the use of PICCO, the most essential change that occured in the children's conceptual models was that the interconnections of different aspects and phenomena began to be constructed. The extent of the construction varied, but this construction seemed to point in the direction of the currently accepted scientific knowledge. The children's exploration processes seemed to contain wandering, investigating and seeking for something and experimenting with an aim. During the research period the time which the children used for exploring the phenomenon using PICCO was on average only 65 minutes. From the basis of this research it would appear that independent exploration using the pictorial computer based simulation, PICCO, at a very early stage, when children are spontaneously interested in those phenomena, could help children in the formation of correctly directed conceptual model of that phenomenon.