HomeThe Asia-Pacific Education Researchervol. 20 no. 2 (2011)

Extrapolating from Students’ Preconception to “Scientific” Consensus: Singapore Secondary Students’ Conversation on Earth

Xueli Wang | Beaumie Kim | Mi Song Kim

Discipline: Earth Science



The present study focuses on investigating the impact of commonly occurring ideas proposed by students on conceptual development during conversations on Earth’s phenomena. More specifically, we examine the commonly used idea of “heat” as the starting point to explore students’ mental models of Earth’s phenomena and the process of students developing “scientific” consensus in the context of a small group discussion. The idea of “heat” was prevalent in the students’ explanations of the occurrence of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in both the previous study (Bezzi & Happs, 1994; Ross & Shuell, 1993) and the present study. We argue that the discourse around observable “heat”-related events is employed by students in their conversations to interpret and communicate the unobservable internal Earth dynamics, which might affect the students’ conceptual development. Interviews were conducted with 20 Singaporean secondary school students to understand their preconceptions in Earth science by getting them to respond to open-ended questions through drawing and discussion. Based on the analysis of one group’s (3 students) discourse, we found that 1) students’ ideas of ‘heat’ are identified for facilitating their learning of the causality and dynamics inside the earth; and 2) the ideas of ’heat’ facilitate students to develop more sophisticated and integrated explanations of the occurrence of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. This was especially to make sense of the cause of plate movement and magma explosion - what Gobert (2000) called Integrated models. This paper presents students’ preconceptions of the dynamics inside the earth, and provides information and implications on the development of an integrated model of Earth’s phenomena.