Conceptions and artefacts : Children's understanding of the earth in the presence of visual representations

University dissertation from Stockholm : Pedagogiska institutionen

Abstract: The studies in this thesis explore children’s understanding of the earth when presented with visual representations. The conceptual understanding is related to cognitive contexts as well as the physical and cultural state. Pictures and models, as communicative tools, are associated with both cognition and culture. The investigation was divided into three different studies, where the main differentiation was the category of visual representation of the earth that was used. In the first study eleven children, aged six to eight, were interviewed with a globe as a model of the earth. In the second study fourteen children, aged six to eight, were interviewed, this time with a poster of a satellite photo of the earth. In the third study, eighteen children, aged six to nine, were interviewed while they were drawing pictures the earth. The results showed that the influence of these representations could be detected in what the children talked about and in their choices of explanations. In the children’s conceptions of the earth, however, no clear influence from the representations was apparent. A possible explanation for this is that pictures and models can be produced according to different conventions for depicting. The alternative modes of depiction in the children’s culture appeared to make it possible for the children to choose a certain mode of depiction, in their interpretation of the representation that made this interpretation in accord with their own conception of the earth. Not only did the children express various conceptions of the earth, e.g. that people and countries were situated inside a globe, in the presence of the representations, but also some children drew pictures of the earth in line with conventional methods for depicting the earth, even though they may have expressed alternative conceptions. The results support the view that children hold conceptions, but they oppose to claims that naïve thinking is without conceptual structure, and that we have no foundation to locate conceptions in people’s minds, as distinguished from concepts that are located in cultural tools.

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