Glauert - IJSE 2009

How Young Children Understand Electric Circuits: Prediction, explanation and exploration
International Journal of Science Education, Volume 31, Issue 8 May 2009 , pages 1025 - 1047

Esme Bridget Glauert

This paper reports findings from a study of young children's views about electric circuits. Twenty-eight children aged 5 and 6 years were interviewed. They were shown examples of circuits and asked to predict whether they would work and explain why. They were then invited to try out some of the circuit examples or make circuits of their own choosing. Children expressed a variety of views about the connections needed in a circuit, offered different kinds of explanation and showed differing levels of competence in circuit making. The range of responses showed similarities to those of older students found in previous research. The relationship between practical competence, prediction, and explanation was not straightforward. For example, children with similar levels of practical competence made different predictions or offered different kinds of explanation. Analysis of the circuits children chose to construct suggested influences of existing competence and knowledge. In particular, some children tested out circuit examples about which they had been unsure during the interview, while others explored circuit connections more generally. Findings underline the importance of drawing on a variety of evidence in assessing young children's understandings of electric circuits. They indicate that young children may offer views about electric circuits not unlike those of older children and adults with similar experience. Finally, there was some suggestion that the interview procedure may have acted as an instructive stimulus in helping children to become more conscious of their own views and reflect on their thinking in the light of further evidence.