The acquisition of biological knowledge during childhood: Cognitive conflict or tabula rasa?



Clinical interviews were conducted with three elementary school children, who varied in age but not in family or school environment, to determine the extent to which they held naive misconceptions about important biological topics and to determine agewise trends in the development of biological knowledge. Does early biological knowledge acquisition follow a pattern of spontaneous naive theory construction and cognitive conflict or does it follow a pattern of gradual accretion to an initially blank slate? Contrary to findings in the physical sciences, little evidence was found for biological “misconceptions” as knowledge acquisition appeared to more directly follow the gradual accretion hypothesis with the primary source of that knowledge adult authority rather than personal experience. However, “conceptual change teaching” is still advocated due to its ability to provoke students to consider and test alternative conceptions (even if they are not their own) as a means of encouraging the development of important general reasoning patterns utilized in the testing of causal hypotheses.