A study of the ability of primary and elementary school children to generalize selected science concepts

Dass, Kewal K. (1979) A study of the ability of primary and elementary school children to generalize selected science concepts. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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    Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.
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Abstract

The study investigated the ability of primary and elementary school subjects to generalize two science concepts, Insect and Animal with and without instruction in the form of a mental set. It also examined the effects of age, IQ and sex on the ability of the children to generalize these concepts. Two instruments measuring the ability to generalize the concepts Insect and Animal were developed. Each instrument contained three sets of instances, each set displaying a progressively reduced number of attributes of the concept under study. The total number of instances from which a subject could generalize a given concept was taken as an index of his ability to generalize. The scores of the ability to generalize were analysed using multiple regression analysis. -- The results indicate that of the independent variables investigated, only age and mental set significantly affected the ability to generalize the concepts Insect and Animal. It was found that the younger children's concepts were least developed and with age these concepts became more developed and more conceptual in nature. The ability to use information given in a mental set was found to be a function of age. The children in this study were more able to generalize the concept Insect than the concept Animal. This was because the concept Insect contained instances more perceptually homogenous in nature than that of the concept Animal, whose instances were more perceptually diverse and therefore afforded a great difficulty to the children to generalize. -- The children's concepts of Insect and Animal were both undergeneralized and overgeneralized. The kindergarten children undergeneralized the concept Insect more than the older children by not including peripheral instances of the concept. These younger children were not able to benefit from a mental set. The result being that their concept of Insect was undergeneralized to the same extent with or without a mental set. The control group of subjects in each grade overgeneralized the concept Insect to the same extent by including non-instances perceptually similar in general appearance to instances of the concept. Only the older children (11-12 years) were able to benefit from the mental set. This suggests that the younger children were more perceptually bound than the older children. -- In the control group the younger kindergarten subjects included more non-insect animals as instances of the concept Insect than the older children. No subject was able to benefit from a mental set for the concept Insect. As a result, the younger children's concept of insect was more overgeneralized than that of the older children suggesting that the older children had a better notion of the criterial attributes of insects than the younger children. -- The concept Animal was undergeneralized to a small extent by the control group of subjects in each grade, by not including peripheral instances of the concept. Only the older children benefitted from a mental set. It was found that the subjects in this study had some idea of the characteristics of animals as none selected a plant or an inanimate object as instances of the concept. In the control group, the kindergarten and grade three subjects' concept of Animal was overgeneralized more than that of the fifth grade subjects. The fifth grade subjects rarely selected non-instances perceptually similar in general appearance to instances of the concept Animal. Unlike the younger Kindergarten children, the older grade three subjects were able to make use of the information given in the mental set and thus overgeneralized to a lesser extent. It was suggested that the younger children's concept of animal was more overgeneralized as they were more perceptually bound then the older children. -- The results suggest that children are better able to master less general concepts than more general ones. As such it was suggested that curricular materials especially in the science should be sequenced from the simple to the more complex. In addition, the study demonstrated that children are able to improve their learning of general concepts provided a great number and variety of instances and non-instances of the concept are used in instruction.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7720
Item ID: 7720
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 194-199.
Department(s): Education, Faculty of
Date: 1979
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Concept learning

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