At a Lewisburg preschool, Professor Lori Smolleck, left, and senior Vanessa Hershberger use bubbles to investigate children’s understanding of air.

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LEWISBURG, Pa. – In cooperation with local child care centers, Lori Smolleck, assistant professor of education at Bucknell, and senior Vanessa Hershberger are identifying correct and incorrect ideas that children have about basic science.

The research will help educators better understand young children’s preconceived notions and the ways that they think about science, paving the way for more effective curricula.

Misconceptions from children from two and a half to eight years old ranged from fairly understandable mistakes such as thinking that all solids are hard, or that heavy objects always sink, to more outlandish notions.

Magnets and Chinese food
“One of the stranger misconceptions we heard was that magnets stick to Chinese food,” said Hershberger.

Smolleck added that sometimes they were equally surprised by what the kids did know. One young girl understood that magnets don’t stick to all metals, but mentioned that they stick to iron.

By employing simple exercises such as guessing whether an object will sink or float, Smolleck and Hershberger taught using the inquiry method, which allowed them the opportunity to collect data while educating. Each lesson was aligned with state and national standards.

Using the inquiry method
“I always use the inquiry method,” Smolleck explained. “Simply imparting knowledge as facts can allow misconceptions to co-exist with new learning.”

Along with Hershberger, who participated as part of an eight week undergraduate research project, Smolleck will present the findings on Oct. 25 at the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators conference in Grantville, Pa.

Contact: Office of Communications

Posted Aug. 7, 2007