Profiles of Inconsistent Knowledge in Children’s Pathways of Conceptual Change

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Conceptual change requires learners to restructure parts of their conceptual knowledge base. Prior research has identified the fragmentation and the integration of knowledge as 2 important component processes of knowledge restructuring but remains unclear as to their relative importance and the time of their occurrence during development. Previous studies mostly were based on the categorization of answers in interview studies and led to mixed empirical results, suggesting that methodological improvements might be helpful. We assessed 161 third-graders’ knowledge about floating and sinking of objects in liquids at 3 measurement points by means of multiple-choice tests. The tests assessed how strongly the children agreed with commonly found but mutually incompatible statements about floating and sinking. A latent profile transition analysis of the test scores revealed 5 profiles, some of which indicated the coexistence of inconsistent pieces of knowledge in learners. The majority of students (63%) were on 1 of 7 developmental pathways between these profiles. Thus, a child’s knowledge profile at a point in time can be used to predict further development. The degree of knowledge integration decreased on some individual developmental paths, increased on others, and remained stable on still others. The study demonstrates the usefulness of explicit quantitative models of conceptual change. The results support a constructivist perspective on conceptual development, in which developmental changes of a learner’s knowledge base result from idiosyncratic, yet systematic knowledge-construction processes.

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