Practical Mechanics in Primary Mathematics: A Preliminary Report

Year: 1995

Author: Groves, Susie, Doig, Brian

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Practical Mechanics in Primary Mathematics is a two year research project, funded by the Australian Research Council, carried out in collaboration with Julian Williams' Mechanics in Action Project in the UK.

Research indicates that children's spontaneous concepts in mechanics clash with accepted scientific concepts, are remarkably resistant to change and are already deep-seated by grade 4. Practical Mechanics in Primary Mathematics is designed to investigate ways in which practical activities can be used to foster links between upper primary children's spontaneous concepts and Newtonian mechanics.

The first phase of the project, being carried out in 1995, is examining how children interact with equipment-based practical mechanics activities. In particular: Which aspects of such activities are attended to by children? What mathematical and other techniques are used by children to record and represent their experiences? What is the nature of the discussions between children? Forty grade 5 and 6 children are being video-taped while working in groups of five on a series of practical activities, after which they are interviewed individually.

During 1996, teaching experiments will be carried out in five grade 5 and 6 classrooms to determine the extent to which an appropriate program of practical mechanics activities, in which teachers have a knowledge of the children's spontaneous concepts; draw children's attention to the critical features of the activities; encourage effective recording and representation; and engage children in discussions which support theory building; results in a shift towards more formal scientific concepts by the children.

This paper will outline the project and briefly report on the first phase.