Some dimensions of commonsense reasoning about the physical world : an empirical study of the structure of students' conceptualisations
Research in the area of alternative conceptions in Science has been suggesting that students hold conceptualisations which are different from those learned at school. This thesis aims to investigate possible structured patterns of commonsense reasoning about the physical world present in the way students (ranging from 8-9 year old to undergraduate students of Physics) conceptualise entities in Science. The theoretical framework was developed mainly from previous Piagetian studies (see Mariani and Ogborn 1990, 1991) about the child's construction of reality (Piaget 1937), particularly in what concerns the fundamental role of actions in this construction, and also with a basis in some more recent studies on the representation of knowledge in the area of the cognitive sciences. With a basis in this theoretical framework some very fundamental 'ontological' questions were addressed to the students about a selected group of entities (Can you touch it? or Can you create it? etc.). Also students were asked to compare entities and to locate them in a given number of 'ontological' dimensions (static or dynamic, cause or effect, etc.) The empirical data was collected with the use of questionnaires and interviews. The sample consisted of five different agelinstructional groups of Brazilian students. Multidimensional scaling was used to analyse the quantitative data. The qualitative data was analysed using a systemic network with which different answers given by students could be classified. The general result of the quantitative analysis was a common fourdimensional 'ontological' space for all five groups, with the dimensions being interpreted in the same way as in a previous published pilot study (Mariani and Ogborn, 1991), and being fundamentally related to the distinctions static or dynamic, place or localized, cause or motion and immaterial fluid (continuous) or action (discrete). In these spaces entities can be located and may change their positions with different agelinstructional groups. The results of the qualitative analysis give some more support to these quantitative results.