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Title: The role of executive function, metacognition, and support type in children's ability to solve physics tasks
Author: Gray, Elaine
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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Some research has suggested that guided play (GP) is a better support type for children to learn, but other research has suggested direct instruction (DI) is better for teaching children physics. These research fields formed the basis of this study, in addition to also considering the role of executive function (EF) and metacognition (Mc) due to their potential links to physics task performance. This research was carried out with 38 3- and 4-year-olds over three time points (TP), six weeks apart. Children completed the same EF, Mc, and physics task at each time point, as well as a transfer ramps physics task at TP3. Children were split into one of two support type two groups to carry out the balance beam tasks: GP or DI. No significant links between EF and Mc were detected, and no role of EF or Mc in physics task performance was seen. A small association between Mc rate and strategies used was seen at one TP only. A significant difference in Mc behaviours displayed by each group during the balance beam task was found at each TP, due to GP scoring significantly higher than DI, but no significant difference in Mc interview scores was found. No significant link between GP's higher Mc rate scores and other measures was detected. There was a significant difference in balance beam performance between the groups at TP3, due to DI scoring significantly higher than GP. The results from the balance beam task did not significantly correlate with the transfer ramps task, suggesting support type did not have a strong transferable effect to another physics task. It was found that vocabulary was associated with EF and Mc interview scores, suggesting language was an important individual factor. The study has highlighted that young children's learning of balance beam concepts is complex, with individuals showing a variety of strategies to solve different balance beam problems. It provides support that DI could be a better support type for teaching children balance beam concepts. The data are discussed with reference to different theories and to the issues surrounding the small sample size and low statistical power, which are potentially impacting the conclusions that can be drawn.
Supervisor: Baker, Sara Sponsor: LEGO Foundation ; Faculty of Education ; University of Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Executive function ; Metacognition ; Support ; Guided play ; Direct instruction ; Preschoolers ; Children