Ehrlén - IJSE 2008

Children's Understanding of Globes as a Model of the Earth: A problem of contextualizing

Karin Ehrlén
Stockholm University, Sweden
DOI: 10.1080/09500690601185956

International Journal of Science Education, Volume 30, Issue 2 February 2008 , pages 221 - 238

Visual representations play an important role in science teaching. The way in which visual representations may help children to acquire scientific concepts is a crucial test in the debate between constructivist and socio-cultural oriented researchers. In this paper, the question is addressed as a problem of how to contextualize conceptions and explanations in cognitive frameworks and visual descriptions in cultural contexts. Eleven children aged 6-8 years were interviewed in the presence of a globe. Those children who expressed views of the Earth that deviated from the culturally accepted view did not show any difficulties in combining these different ideas with the globe model. The way that this is possible is explained using a model of conceptual development as a process of differentiation between contexts and frameworks. The child must differentiate not only between the Earth as an area of flat ground in a common-sense framework and the planet Earth in a theoretical framework, but also between these frameworks and the framework of the representation. It is suggested that a differentiation on a meta-level is needed to distinguish which problems and explanations belong to which cognitive framework. In addition, the children must contextualize the visual description of the Earth in the globe in a cultural context to discern which mode of representation is used.