Children's conceptions of physical events: Explicit and tacit understanding of horizontal motion

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Abstract

The conceptual understanding that children display when predicting physical events has been shown to be inferior to the understanding they display when recognizing whether events proceed naturally. This has often been attributed to differences between the explicit engagement with conceptual knowledge required for prediction and the tacit engagement that suffices for recognition, and contrasting theories have been formulated to characterize the differences. Focusing on a theory that emphasizes omission at the explicit level of conceptual elements that are tacitly understood, the paper reports two studies that attempt clarification. The studies are concerned with 6- to 10-year-old children's understanding of, respectively, the direction (141 children) and speed (132 children) of motion in a horizontal direction. Using computer-presented billiards scenarios, the children predicted how balls would move (prediction task) and judged whether or not simulated motion was correct (recognition task). Results indicate that the conceptions underpinning prediction are sometimes interpretable as partial versions of the conceptions underpinning recognition, as the omission hypothesis would imply. However, there are also qualitative differences, which suggest partial dissociation between explicit and tacit understanding. It is suggested that a theoretical perspective that acknowledges this dissociation would provide the optimal framework for future research.

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