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Lászlóné Nagy: The development of biological concepts between the ages 6-16

The empirical study reported in the present paper aimed at mapping the development of some biological concepts that form a hierarchical system (living creature, plant, animal, human, fungus). The study covered the whole period of compulsory schooling (years 6-16). The student populations of the cross-sectional sampling were selected to represent characteristic phases of schooling (grades 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10). The sample included 1,238 students from 58 classes of 14 schools (10 elementary and 4 secondary academic) of Szeged and its immediate environment. A battery of five test versions per grade (four for grade 2) was developed for the examination of the development of the conceptual system, along with a diagnostic map for a multidimensional analysis of its characteristics. Anchor items were used to follow the development of the concepts. The selection of the aspects and the development of the diagnostic map were based on the analysis of the content and the structure of the targeted concepts. The results of the quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data confirmed the results of former studies: (1) student performance increases with age on the same tasks; (2) the increase in performance is highest between ages 10-12; (3) the performance of 14-year-olds often shows a decrease compared to that of 12-year-olds; (4) performance on the most recently studied materials is characterised by relatively low means, and development can be observed only later; (5) higher means were achieved on tasks and items that targeted knowledge presented to students more than once (from new perspectives and/or in a more detailed manner) in the period examined. The following conclusions were yielded by the study. (1) Hungarian students approach the concept of living creatures from the aspect of symptoms of life. (2) Related elements of knowledge are also cloosely connected in the students' mind and their development follows the same pace. (3) Student performance levels are influenced by the way textbooks use concepts and present material, their careless distribution of core and complementary materials as well as their approach. (4) Student performance is the highest in each age group on humans and animals. (5) Schooling plays a great role in facilitating the development of biology concepts, although the data suggest that the embedding of new knowledge is missing in several areas. (6) The history of biology as a science seems to be (roughly) repeated in the course of individual cognition. (7) The development of biological concepts is also shaped by the spontaneous processes of maturation and by knowledge acquisition outside the school. (8) The acquisition levels of basic knowledge in chemistry influence the development of biological concepts. (9) The development of basic concepts in biology is continuous but stages can be identified in the developmental process, the order of which is invariable. (10) There are significant differences in the pace of the development of the basic concepts of biology among students of the same age. The identification of the students' own knowledge structure (the structure of subjective knowledge) leads to the diagnosis of the points of lack, error or distortion as compared to the targeted structure (objective knowledge or knowledge defined in curricula or textbooks to be acquired). This diagnosis can be a precondition for successful teaching. The acquisition of the cultural elements of comprehensive significance in one's knowledge of the world (basic concepts, laws and correspondences) deserve special attention, because these can comprise a background enabling one to grasp new knowledge.

MAGYAR PEDAGÓGIA 99. Number 3. 263-288. (1999)

Address for correspondence: Nagy Lászlóné, József Attila Tudományegyetem, Biológiai Szakmódszertani Csoport, H-6725 Szeged, Tisza Lajos krt. 103.

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Magyar Tudományos Akadémia