Using scaffolding strategies to promote young children's scientific understandings of floating and sinking

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Hsin, C.-T.
Wu, H.-K.

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Springer Netherlands


The purposes of this study are to examine young children’s explanations of floating and sinking and to investigate how scaffolding strategies provided by a tutor could promote their scientific understandings. Fifteen 4-year-olds and fifteen 5-year-olds from a public kindergarten in northern Taiwan participated in this study. The children were interviewed before and after an instructional intervention to examine their understandings about how the weight, volume, and material of an object are related to sinking and floating. During the intervention, children manipulated objects made of different materials and were assigned to one of the three groups: scaffolding-material (provided with teaching scaffolding and allowed to see the materials of the objects), scaffolding (teaching scaffolding only), and material groups (seeing the materials only). In the first two groups, 16 teaching strategies based on six scaffolding principles were employed. Analyses of interviews showed that before the intervention, the 4-year-olds seemed to have a variety of explanations for sinking and floating and a majority of the 5-year-olds used weight as an explanation for floatation. After the intervention, both 4- and 5-year-olds in the scaffolding-material and scaffolding groups improved their understandings of floating and sinking. Particularly, three out of five 5-years-olds in the scaffolding-material group related the material of an object to its buoyancy and generalized their explanations to the objects made of the same material. The findings suggest that manipulative experiences alone might not be enough for children to further their understandings about floatation and that combining teaching scaffolding with children’s perceiving of the materials of objects is more effective. This study provides insight into how to support young children to learn science through effective teaching strategies.