INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF SCIENCE
European summer school for
primary science trainers
9 – 14 July 2005
Erice, Sicily - Italy
Children’s comprehension of
physical phenomena at preschool
and lower elementary school level
Institute of Education Development
Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro
The results obtained after several years of
research on children’s understanding of physical
phenomena at the preschool and lower
elementary school level, have shown that physical
phenomena motivate children as an intellectual
The value of experiments of natural or physical
phenomena consists in enabling children to satisfy
their curiosity in many different ways and lies in
the stimulation of mental activities by:
observation hypothesizing or predicting
classification making conclusions from data,
asking insightful question about
These experiments provide children with opportunities
for active participation by introducing small changes and
verifying their effects.
HOW TO TEACH SCIENCE?
The excitement and fun of finding answers through
science processes should be the means of how to teach
Providing science education for children ages 3 – 11
communicate the following points:
Science is a process for
Science is fun
I can do it Science is questioning
We have examined the importance of science with regard
to children’s developmental needs and also as a stimulus
to children’s curiosity and their intellectual activities.
Special attention will be paid to discovery activities,
which enable children to get acquainted with physical
phenomena through experimenting and play.
SCIENCE CAN BE ELEMENTARY
There are many physical phenomena in nature,
which can be presented to children in way
adjusted to their age.
Physical phenomena are particularly suitable
because they provide opportunities for children
to observe, according to their own abilities,
what happens as well how and why it happens.
Teachers must adapt logically well organized
contents and precepts of physics to the school-
age level as a source of great intellectual
stimulation and contribution to cognitive
development in a broad sense.
Study of movement and forces provides
opportunities to overcome the problem of
the conservation abilities
conservation of length
conservation of mass
conservation of number
conservation of weight
Conservation of mass and volume
Examining the movements of The same experiment can be
objects of various shapes (made applied in the study of the
of an equal quantity of conservation of volume, for
plasticine) in water, children the purpose of observation of
overcome the problem of the bodies of different forms,
conservation of mass. They which occupy the same
observe how the speed of volume when submerged in
movement depends on the water.
shape of the body.
TEACHING AND LEARNING ACTIVITIES
Various physical phenomena were selected for
teaching through discovery.
This approach to the subject can be called "discovery
Attention was paid on selecting and structuring
experiments, keeping in mind the complexity of the
phenomenon and children's ability to understand it.
The teaching and learning activities are based on the
results of our research and experience enriched by
direct contact with children.
PHYSICAL PHENOMENA AS A STIMULUS
FOR INTELLECTUAL ACTIVITY
If our primary goal in introducing children to physical
phenomena is intellectual activity, it is necessary to
consider in detail the following questions:
The choice of experiments and method of presentation
Children's ability to comprehend physical phenomena
Variations of the experiment and the problem situations
as a stimulus for intellectual activity
The role of the teacher during the experiment
The selection of experiments
and method of presentation
The choice of experiments should not be
limited only to the most interesting
phenomena in respective fields.
The phenomenon is truly fascinating!
If a phenomenon is not supplemented by
variations that help the child to
understand it, only prompts the child's
egocentricity, particularly at preschool
level. Then it is almost unavoidable to get
answers in which everything that has been
seen is attributed to "magic", "trickery"
or "conjuring tricks".
For instance, if the experiment with the
stream of water is carried out after a series
of activities in which the children have the
opportunity of charging different objects
and examining their proprieties, the
bending of the stream of water would then
be an expected phenomenon.
The requirements that must be met:
simple equipment and material for the
dynamic changes that can attract
possibility for children to carry out
experiments by themselves
safety of the children
Children try to answer the question:
Which bar should be used, wooden or metal, to connect
electroscope's rings and to make the foil on the uncharged
Experiments should be structured in such
way that they represent individual
physical phenomena which we often
encounter in everyday life. There are
many "physical experiments" we all take
part in when we do everyday chores, walk,
run or go in for sports.
Children observe the behavior After the experiment with
of the doll when the pram rocking doll and the pram, it is
suddenly starts moving or recommended to have
stops short. conversation with children
about the effects that appear
when the bus suddenly starts or
HOW TO INTRODUCE CHILDREN TO THE
WORLD OF PHYSICAL PHENOMENA
According to our experience, the child should first become
acquainted with a certain physical phenomenon through immediate
experience in everyday life.
Later through research as an individual activity, the child satisfies
his or her curiosity, thinks about his experience, and introduces
small changes and checks up on their effects.
In the end, during a conversation about similar phenomena in life,
the child returns to everyday life enriched with new insights.
For this reason after the experiment on movement on rough and
smooth surfaces, the subject of the conversation should be: Is it
possible without friction?
Is it possible without friction ?
Children's ability to comprehend physical
The choice of the method of presentation of the experiment
depends on the complexity of a phenomenon on one hand,
and the children's ability to understand it on the other.
Some experiments should be arranged in separate phases,
starting with the simplest and gradually progressing
towards the more complex ones.
The experience gained at one stage is important for the
next stage since it enables the child to participate in the
more complex activities that follow.
Efforts should be made to standardize the problem
assignments in every phase of the experiment and stick to
the sequences of their performance.
For example, a systematic and gradual introduction to
electrical phenomena and their better comprehension
require answers to series of questions:
Can all objects be charged?
What does the attraction and repulsion depend on (when
will it be stronger and when weaker)?
Are both substances (object and wool cloth, for example)
charged by rubbing together?
Can the part of the object, which has not been rubbed,
Is this a lasting phenomenon?
Do the charged objects interact with each other?
Which end of the comb
attracts pieces of paper?
How long pieces of
paper are attached to
Variations of the experiment and problem
situations as a stimulus for intellectual activities
In order to observe objectively children's ability to
comprehend physical phenomena separate stages of the
experiment, whenever possible, should be structured in
terms of problem situations, offering sufficient
perceptive elements as basis for deductions.
Each phase or variation of the experiment should
prompt the child to further research, not to discourage.
That is why the level of children's capability of
comprehension should always be borne in mind.
Children (students) investigate scientific concepts and
phenomena firsthand, record and reflect on their
observations, share their findings with others, and apply
the skills and knowledge they have gained to new
situations. This is hands-on but also minds-on, inquiry-
based approach to physical phenomena (science). These
activities help children (students) understand the "why"
and "how" of their work.
New variations of an experiment and problem situations
should indicate the cause of the phenomenon in a more
direct way to stimulate the child to reflect and overcome
cognitive conflict. This particularly refers to contents
with a higher degree of abstraction.
Children try to find the answer to the following questions:
Can you move the metal ring When will the bulb light? How
along the curved copper wire so should the ring be moved along
that bulb doesn’t light up? the wire to make the bulb light
Children are asked to form the They are asked to form a
shadow of a stick at a given shadow by moving the
place and then to determine electric bulb (torch), but this
the position of the shadow in time on the side of the torch.
relation to the source of light Then children experiment
and obstacle (the stick). with two source of light.
Here is a variation for the youngest children and the following
interesting question: Is the shadow of a red circle (geometrical form
made of cardboard) red?
At some stages of an experiment, the problem may be set
in such a way that requires close observation in order to
find corresponding relations.
When do cubes of equal size cover different distances?
What must be done if we want the bigger cube to cover the same distance?
4. The role of teacher during the experiment
The teacher helps and guides the child to observe
connections between cause and effect, which is essential
for understanding of natural phenomena.
His support is indispensable for the development of
logical and abstract thinking.
Activities with children can be realized in play
The balloons "kissing” Is it important which sides
of the balloons are facing
one another? (balloons are
charged on one side only)
"Facts are important, but the
younger the students are, the
more important it is to learn the
process of science"
Dr Leon Lederman,
Nobel Prize Laureate