Constructing Meaning Through Misconceptions
At times, children will construct incorrect explanations and theories. When we help them to probe and ask additional questions related to the concept and provide meaningful and exciting provocations for more exploration and investigation, they begin to see the inconsistencies in their thoughts and revise their ideas, explanations, and theories. This process fosters the construction of logic and truth for mathematical and scientific ideas. Piaget likens this development of children’s construction of logic to adults’ construction of science. He explains that just as children go through levels of being wrong, scientists have developed theories in a similar manner. One example he cites is that scientists conceptualized the heliocentric theory, which is the theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun, after the establishment of the geocentric theory, which states that the Earth is the center of the universe. Once scientists had accepted the heliocentric theory, some 2,000 years later, they nullified the geocentric theory (Kuhn, 1962; Piaget & Garcia, 1983/1989). Piaget suggests that scientific truth is verified by empirical proof and rigorous logic. Likewise, once children establish more sound theories, they will not support their previous “immature” ideas. The suggestion is that children need opportunities and support to construct their own knowledge, ideas, and theories through exploration, debate, and critical thinking. Such actions support children and lead to their building autonomy and personal confidence. Teachers can support this developmental process by providing interesting environments for children to explore, asking provocative questions that spark thought and imagination; encouraging students to challenge others’ ideas, modeling thought-provoking debate, and providing resources and ideas for experimentation.
Children are more apt to take a risk and share their ideas if they are in an environment or culture that views them as competent learners and contributors. Children’s self-concept in a group impacts how they will react to new problems and ideas. Confident students develop a positive self-image that allows them to feel valued and important.
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