What might be learnt from Key Stage 2 pupils’ written questions about electricity?

UCL Institute of Education, United Kingdom

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Abstract

This thesis examines what can be learnt by taking seriously pupil questions about electricity. The literature reviewed confirmed that pupils encounter difficulties in understanding concepts associated with electricity and simple circuits. A small number of authors have also advocated that pupils should engage more purposefully in the processes of science such as by posing questions. This study addresses these two concerns by examining: What might be learnt from Key Stage 2 pupils’ written questions about electricity?

Formative methods were employed that engaged the pupils and evaluated their personal understandings of electricity. A research lesson taught on 35 occasions provided opportunities for a total of 728 pupils in 11 schools to devise their own written questions about electricity. The pupils were shown the components used to construct circuits and given a short piece of text about an investigation. They were then asked to record in writing their own questions about electricity, batteries or the components or any aspect of the investigation.

A quarter of the questions generated revealed knowledge that was not provided at the time of the research lesson. These questions were devised by 67% of the total number of pupils. Further analysis of these knowledge-based questions showed that most concerned electricity and batteries; very few questions related to the investigation. Questions about procedural and operational matters dominated, but issues about personal safety and the wider phenomena of electricity were also raised. The questions also revealed misconceptions and analogies. Very few of the responses could be categorised as ‘higher-order’ questions.

The evidence suggests that when pupils are supported in the classroom, their written questions can provide valuable insights into their understandings that could be used by teachers to improve teaching and learning about electricity.

Rawlins, C. G. (2010) What might be learnt from Key Stage 2 pupils’ written questions about electricity? Unpublished EdD Thesis. UCL Institute of Education, London.

Correspondence

Dr Colin Rawlins
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Retired Headteacher and former Advisory Teacher for Science and school inspector. Current part-time roles: Family Learning Tutor for science and primary school teacher of maths and science.

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