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Analogical reasoning and generalisation in children's science explanations
£7,458, British Academy. 1/03/08 → 31/08/08. Education rests on learners' ability to derive broad knowledge from specific experiences, but how such generalisation occurs is poorly understood. This project explored how far generalisation in children's ideas about physical state changes could be accounted for by a theoretical framework derived from Karmiloff-Smith's Representational Redescription (RR) model, under which concepts are built up from concrete activities, especially when connections between experiences are highlighted by others. Methods Children aged 7 to 9 years were asked to describe events in a video depicting ice melting (the physical state change most commonly encountered and referred to). They then viewed further videos of melting, freezing, evaporation and condensation (accompanied by prompts about heat for half the sample), and were asked to both describe and compare these. Findings In line with prediction, descriptions of melting were more elaborate and general in tone than those of freezing, whilst accurate descriptions of evaporation and condensation were rare. Phrases used to describe melting were also more likely to recur. Children who were prompted were more likely to mention heat as a factor linking videos. Taken overall, whilst other theories might be capable of explaining some elements of the data, the RR-based framework is the only obvious candidate capable of accounting for both the evident effects of concrete experience on degree of explicit generalisation and the apparent role of external cuing of connections in extending those effects. Given the 'proof of concept' nature of this project, though, more research is needed to establish the applicability of the framework more certainly.
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