emphasize generating, communicating, and evaluating theories via the intelligibility, plausibility, fruitfulness, and conceptual coherence of the alternatives (see Table 6-1). Research on her sixth grade students’ understanding of the nature of science suggested that they had a much better sense of the constructive, knowledge problematic nature of the enterprise than did sixth graders from a comparable school (Smith et al., 2000).

In another example, students showed improved understanding of the process of modeling after they engaged in the task of designing a model that works like a human elbow (Penner et al., 1997). In this study, students in first and second grade in two classrooms participated in a model-building task over three consecutive 1-hour sessions. They began by discussing different types of models they had previously seen or made. They considered the characteristics of those models, and how models are used for understanding phenomena. They were then introduced to the task of designing a model that functions like their elbow. After discussing how their own elbows work, children worked in pairs or triads to design and build models that illustrated the functional aspects of the human elbow. After generating an initial model, each group demonstrated and explained their model to the class followed by discussion of the various models. Students were then given an opportunity to modify their models or start over. In interviews conducted after the session, students improved in their ability to judge the functional rather than perceptual qualities of models compared with nonmodeling peers. They also demonstrated an understanding of the process of modeling in general that was similar to that of children 3 to 4 years older.

Researchers have also identified important curricular features that support the development of a more sophisticated epistemology. Curricula can facilitate the epistemological development of students when they focus on deep science problems, provide students opportunities to conduct inquiry, and structure explicit discussion of epistemological issues (see, e.g., Bell and Linn, 2000; Davis, 1998; Smith and Wenk, in press). It is also important to note that students’ understanding of epistemology does not grow unproblematically from inquiry experiences. In order to advance their understanding of epistemology, learners engaged in inquiry need explicit cues to reflect on their experiences and observations and consider the epistemological implications (Khishfe and Abd-El-Khalick, 2002).


The research base related to children’s understanding of knowledge in general and of scientific knowledge specifically is limited. Much of the work on knowledge has been carried out with college-age populations, although some studies in developmental psychology have looked at children’s under

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