Examining Language To Capture Scientific Understandings: The Case of the Water Cycleby: Maria Varelas, Christine Pappas, Anne Barry, and Amy O'Neill

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As teachers of science, we need to keep in mind that thought and language are intricately related. Linguistic approximations, errors, and misses may be useful windows into our children’s developing thoughts and conceptions. Fostering more differentiated language and helping our children appreciate this sophistication may lead them to increased conceptual understanding. Conversely, fostering conceptual understanding may lead students to increased language sophistication. Information books, even the ones critiqued in this article, can play an important role in this learning.

  • Elementary
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Reviews (3)
  • on Tue May 03, 2011 7:18 PM

The authors point out that the trade books and text books we read may use language that does not accurately describe science processes. Nor do we as teachers always do this. This can cause misconceptions in our students UNLESS we take the time to listen to them and try to see what they are saying/thinking. The authors then, in a text box. suggest means we can use to help students clarify abstract science processes. This is true at any level, not just elementary, And their example of evaporation/condensation is difficult at any level for some students. I like the fact that they emphasize that students may not use correct terminology but have accurate understandings if we can just help them to describe what they are visualizing. And their suggestion of hands-on explorations with concepts and literature groups are also true for any age student.

Tina Harris  (Fairmount, IN)
Tina Harris (Fairmount, IN)

  • on Sat Oct 01, 2016 3:53 PM

This article proved particularly useful in terms of knowing how to introduce complex ideas and concepts to children of a young age. At first pass, children may not have the specific scientific vocabulary required to grasp terms like "evaporation" immediately. This article does a good job of guiding teachers through giving their own introductory lessons (whether relevant to the water cycle or not) which may have higher-level concepts and/or challenging terminology. It stresses the importance of being able to apply the concepts to a child's everyday life by using terms and ideas that they can understand at their current level of vocabulary skills. It also gives some great ideas about vocabulary and science skill-building activities teachers can use to not only teach deeper science concepts, but every day lessons of any content area to boot. I actually read this article before designing a lesson plan to teach an introductory lesson about the water cycle to third graders. Using age-appropriate vocabulary, small group activities, multiple approaches, and real life applications as the article discusses produced great results for my own lesson.

Ethan S  (Kettering, OH)
Ethan S (Kettering, OH)

  • on Wed Nov 20, 2013 9:56 AM

The authors of this article were studying the water cycle with students and noticed a lot of misconceptions in the wording of children's answers to questions about the water cycle. They were not mentioning anything about states of matter. So the teachers checked the literature to see what the wording was like. In most of the books it was not clear that the water cycle involves changes in states of matter. They authors summarized as follows..."As teachers of science, we need to keep in mind that thought and language are intricately related. Linguistic ap- proximations, errors, and misses may be useful windows into our children’s developing thoughts and conceptions." That is all well and good, but they never really give a clear picture of how to solve the problem they are concerned about.

Betty Paulsell  (Kansas City, MO)
Betty Paulsell (Kansas City, MO)

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