The organic origin of food : the development of a scientific concept in children aged four to eight
Educators have discovered that adolescents commonly hold misconceptions in science which interfere with future learning and are difficult to eradicate. However, although early informal learning experiences have been suggested as the source of these ideas, the process by which young children develop both sound knowledge and misconceptions in science has not been elucidated. This research, which is exploratory in nature, is a study of the development of just one concept in young children in the hope that some apparently contradictory evidence can be reconciled. The empirical enquiry was conducted in two parts: 1. A cross-sectional design was employed with thirty children at each age of four, six, and eight. Semi-structured individual interviews probed children's knowledge of food-related factual items and their understanding that people depend upon plants either directly or indirectly for their food.2. A qualitative enquiry was engaged to discover the experiences of young children, both inside and outside school, which might contribute to their knowledge about the origin of food. Children’s responses indicate an increase in factual knowledge with age. Although this can be linked primarily to their practical experiences, video film and adult explanation rather than books played their part as well. The children themselves frequently mentioned family-based experiences as the source of their knowledge. There was no significant correlation between factual knowledge and understanding, indicating the possible existence of an intervening process linking the two. On many occasions the younger children made statements which could inadvertently mislead the questioner to underestimate the extent of their knowledge. However, early signs of a scientific misconception which is known to cause problems for adolescent learners were found. This was not the result of faulty information provided by adults and could easily be overlooked. Insight from recent developments in cognitive science can help both to explain these findings and also in the design of improved pedagogic strategies.