Primary struggle to grasp abstracts

1st January 1999 at 00:00
Primary pupils are struggling with some of the abstract scientific concepts in the national curriculum such as "forces", according to a survey of their attitudes towards science, writes Karen Thornton.

The interim findings - three years into a five-year study being carried out by the Association of Science Education - back plans to move the study of forces to the secondary curriculum in 2000.

But overall, young children do make progress in understanding scientific concepts, such as evaporation and plant growth - with their thinking becoming markedly more sophisticated from age nine onwards.

The interim results of the survey, by the ASE's primary committee, will be reported to the association's annual meeting at Reading University next week.

The 53 pupils being tracked in the study are probably not typical, having been put forward by association members or science teachers. But if these children, coming from science-supportive home environments, are struggling then probably so too are their classmates, according to Di Wiggins, senior lecturer in primary science at the University of Central England, Birmingham.

Five and six-year-olds asked what happens to the water in a wet towel say it's "just gone". But by nine, they are able to talk about, evaporation and absorption.

Questions about the forces acting on a book on a table cause the most confusion, even in later years. Older children mention gravity, but not always in the right context. They find it easier to talk about science rooted in daily life than more abstract concepts such as forces, which are hard to "see", she added.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now