Molecular physics in child’s perception or how the image appears


Basing on the study group “The Young Physicist” my colleagues and I carried out a small investigation among pupils of the 2nd-4th forms concerning their understanding of the molecular nature of gas. Their understanding of what gas is pupils expressed in drawings. Their works are very bright and speak for themselves, I invite you to get acquainted with the investigation results.

At the beginning I will give a little bit of psychology theory and tell you about the physics teaching system, who is not interested can scroll down to the pictures.

Why does a 6-7-year-old child need to learn physics?

Many people think that a child in the age of 6-7 is too young to understand physics and particularly such abstract subjects like molecular structure of substance and intermolecular interactions. Being a methodologist even I have to agree that in-depth study of physics textbooks and reference books by a primary school pupil won’t lead to anything good. Every teaching material must be adapted for a certain age and introduced in due time. Its premature presentation will lead to:

  • Overwork
  • Child’s disappointment about his own potential
  • Unwillingness to study the subject in future

For more than ten years there is a syllabus in my lab assigned for primary school pupils, developed with taking into account appropriate age-dependent psychological specifics of pupils. Children get introductory excursus to physics adapted for them. We show them some presentations, carry out experiments, and make definite observations and conclusions. At home pupils also make their own experiments and discoveries. In such an atmosphere pupils don’t cram difficult material, they make simple but very important discoveries by themselves just like real scientists.

In such a way pupils get authentic view about the main fundamental rudiments of physics. The child doesn’t know any formulas yet, he is not able to calculate an electric circuit. But this knowledge is already enough to understand why one or another phenomena occur around him, he can look at the surrounding world wider. A pupil gets not only qualitative base knowledge which helps him in the future, but also great motivation and self-confidence. And it’s very important that a child makes his first steps on the way to scientific thinking.

How such images are born?

Simply defined the object’s image can be a theoretical picture which occurs while mental operating this object. Imagine a pencil… Got it? The vision is already in your head. You can see it. When we imagine difficult objects we use a huge number of different visions, thus when mechanic imagines a car engine he will use the visions of plug, cylinder, piston, valve etc.

The same way all physical processes and phenomena in the scientist’s consciousness are formed of composite basic images. Scientists image molecules, their movement, interactions, and only due to these images they can understand even the most difficult physical processes. Such images are foundations for any physical knowledge.

Primary school is exactly that age when child is widely open for visual perception and absorbs everything like a sponge. At our lessons in the study group we aim to help pupil to form right and thorough images of basic physical objects.

How was the investigation (educational experiment) conducted?

Within 9 lessons (each 45 minutes long) we prepared our pupils for proper understanding of the molecular nature of substance. There were more than 20 physical experiments and observations (including homework) which were directly related to molecular structure of substance. Of course the definition «molecule» was not introduced from the very beginning; first we got convinced that during heating solids expanse and air or water can press. Then we analyzed that everything consists of something, introduced such a definition like «molecule» and after several experiments got convinced that there is a distance between them, some interaction and that molecules move constantly.

Picture 1. Then pupils received clean sheets of paper and a task:

“Draw gas and things that happen there the way you imagine it.”

We convinced our pupils that picture would not be evaluated. It was important for us to find out what images (visions) occur to children when they imagine a gas. Before this we didn’t draw gas on the board and didn’t give children any pictures – they had nothing to copy from; they were drawing what they really imagined. The only thing that could have spoiled the experiment was copying their neighbors’ works.

Picture 2 After the drawings were gathered I showed model presentations for 10 minutes using the instrument “Aerostil”. I showed gas model and its compression. After completing the presentation we distributed clean sheets of paper to children again. Now the task looked the next way:

“Draw gas and things which happen there the way you imagine it now. If nothing has changed, draw the same picture.”

Having two pictures we can not only evaluate pupils’ visual images but also monitor in dynamics qualitative changes that happened during observation of presentations at “Aerostil”.

Let’s look at the pictures

On the left there is a picture made before the demonstration at «Aerostil», and on the right there is a picture made after:

6 years old. It seems that parents also help their child to learn things:


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I would like to thank students for illustrative drawings, and also their parents who bring their children to our lessons.

Conclusions (results of educational experiment)

Basic characteristics that help to evaluate the investigation are possession of the image «molecule», not some substance, and also possession of the image «molecular motion». We just started to discuss molecules and their motions so we could figure only on appearance of these images. In the future we’ll continue the subject and these visions will manifest themselves and develop.

Let’s sum it up:

  1. 1. Children showed high results, many of them already have molecules’ and their motion’s images, for some pupils these visions start to mature, even though it’s a quite abstract subject.
  2. 2. We managed to observe the way image develops in dynamics within 10 minutes.
  3. 3. We got convinced that presentation at “Aerostil” is a powerful and efficient instrument for visual development. Within 10 minutes it produced evident qualitative changes in pupils’ understanding of molecular nature of gas.

Presentations at “Aerostil” just start and will last during the whole subject.

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