children enter school. In this chapter, we focus on the first strand, understanding scientific explanations, by looking at the concepts (and alternate conceptions) that students bring to school.

These concepts evolve as students move from kindergarten through eighth grade as a result of instruction, experience, and maturation. A key challenge for teachers is to build on students’ embodied knowledge and understanding of the world and to help them confront their misconceptions productively in order to develop new understanding.

Identifying a Shared Base of Understanding in Young Children

Children in all cultures encounter and learn about a common set of natural systems or science “domains.” Four domains have been extensively studied in infants and young children, and these domains loosely connect to scientific disciplines: simple mechanics of solid bounded objects (naïve physics), behaviors of psychological agents (naïve psychology), actions and organization of living things (naïve biology), and makeup and substance of materials (naïve chemistry). These domains provide solid foundations on which children can build scientific knowledge and skill.

Young children tend to think about their experiences in regard to each domain in similar ways, regardless of their culture, so one can expect that nearly all children will share basic ideas and expectations about these domains. In biology, for example, they correctly identify living and nonliving things and understand that species “fit” biological niches that serve their survival needs. These are just a few examples of the fairly broad basic understanding that young children derive from their experience in the world even before formal instruction begins.

Four Domains of Knowledge

  1. Simple mechanics of solid bounded objects

  2. Behaviors of psychological agents

  3. Actions and organization of living things

  4. Makeup and substance of materials

Interestingly, while all children tend to reason in a given domain in similar ways, the type of reasoning they do varies by domain, depending on how the domain functions. That is, their reasoning is domain



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