relations from this information is likely to be an implicit process for young children (and for adults). That is, they are not fully conscious of the reasoning they use and cannot describe their thinking processes to someone else (Gopnik et al., 2001). Developing more awareness of our reasoning processes can give us conscious control over them and allows us to choose when and how we use different strategies.

YOUNG CHILDREN’S UNDERSTANDING OF KNOWLEDGE AND OF SCIENCE

Understanding how scientific knowledge is constructed and reflecting on the status of one’s own knowledge of scientific concepts is challenging for many students and for adults. While young children clearly do not have a complete grasp of the scientific enterprise, research suggests that they do have important insights that can serve as resources to their learning about science as a way of knowing. These resources include children’s understanding of their own and others’ ideas, beliefs, and knowledge and their ability to assess sources of knowledge.

Understanding Ideas, Beliefs, and Knowledge

An extensive research literature describes young children’s understanding of knowledge. The preschool years are a time of enormous accomplishments in this regard. Most notably, children develop an initial theory of mind, which provides a framework for their beginning to think of themselves and others as more or less knowledgeable. The research literature on children’s theory of mind is concerned with their increasing sophistication in understanding and predicting the behaviors of others. Central to this development is the transition from a “copy theory” of mind to a “representational” theory of mind (Wellman, 1990), enabling such insights as false belief and how access to different information can lead to different inferences. In the words of Gopnik and Wellman, 5-year-olds appreciate that “all mental life has the same representational character” (Gopnik and Wellman, 1994, p. 267). This work describes an important foundation for children’s understanding of knowledge and the construction of scientific knowledge. For example, it reveals the child’s growing understanding of the active role of the knower in knowledge construction, negating any simple correspondence between observing and knowing.

Understanding what ideas are and what they are not is prerequisite to doing science in a meaningful way. As early as 2 years of age, children begin to use words like “think” in ways that suggest that ideas carry varying degrees of certainty (Perner, 1991); by age 3, they use a cluster of words that distinguish among different mental states (e.g., “think,” “know,” “forget,”



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement