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Where do children get those odd ideas about how the natural world works?

Quite possibly from their teachers, who may also "harbor ideas and views of science that do not match 'official' science," according to a study by Michael R. Cohen of Indiana University's School of Education.

Mr. Cohen and colleagues interviewed 50 elementary-school teachers to find out how the teachers conceived of the phases of the moon--a concept taught in many elementary-school science classes.

Only 12 percent of the teachers fully understood the concept. The majority--74 percent--offered incorrect explanations, the most common being that "something blocks the moon."

Some of the teachers began by stating that clouds would cause the change, Mr. Cohen found. "They altered their response during the interview when shown a calendar and asked about our ability to predict cloud patterns [weather] in the future," he wrote in his paper, presented this month at the Seventh Annual Henry Lester Smith Conference on Educational Research in Bloomington, Ind.

A smaller percentage of the teachers maintained that the moon is black on one side and white on the other. The moon rotates, this group explained, so that those on earth see first one side, then the other.

Another group, with partial accuracy, attributed the phases of the moon to the relative position of the moon, earth, and sun. But many were unable to fill in the details correctly. "One person had the moon revolving in a circle between the earth and the sun," Mr. Cohen said.

The findings may have implications for the methods used by elementary-school teachers to convey the concept of the moon's phases, he added. One common method involves giving the child a ping-pong ball to represent the moon, and using the ball, a light, and the child's head to depict the three celestial bodies. "This activity, which appears so appropriate, may actually reinforce the idea that the earth's shadow causes the phases of the moon," Mr. Cohen wrote. "It provides only part of the acceptable reason, while confusing the issue."


The cat in the hat sat on the mat, not on the doorstep, and he sat there because educators have assumed for years that rhymes facilitate young children's learning of new information. According to this theory, children learn better from rhymed material because they like it better than prose.

However, the results of a new study, reported by three psychologists at the University of Maine at Orono, strongly suggest that this is only half correct.

True, children do prefer stories in verse to those in prose. But in a series of experiments, the researchers found that "the preschoolers' overall short-term retention of story events was significantly higher for prose than for verse presentations."

In the first experiment, the children listened to both prose and verse versions of nursery-rhyme stories and were questioned on the content. The researchers found that, contrary to expectations, children who were read the prose versions answered 78 percent of the questions correctly, while those who heard the same story in verse form an-swered only 54 percent correctly.

However, in the second experiment, the children reported that they did indeed prefer the verse rendition of "Old Dame Trot," "The Little Turtle," and two other stories.

Another experiment, in which the researchers measured how well 40 college students retained information from listening to two versions of ''Old Dame Trot," may provide a clue to the reasons behind long-standing use of rhyme. The adults showed significantly higher recall rates for verse than for prose.

The results of the experiments, the researchers write, may have "important implications for the use of rhyme in various contexts. Although children may pay more attention to some aspects of rhymed material, this increase in attention "may be made at the expense of better comprehension of the overall semantic message conveyed."

The researchers, Donald S. Hayes, Bruce E. Chemelski, and Melvin Palmer, reported on their studies in the January issue of Developmental Psychology.

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