Benchmarks for Science Literacy: Chapter 15 THE RESEARCH BASE



Lower elementary-school students fail to conserve weight and volume of objects that change shape. When an object's appearance changes in several dimensions, they focus on only one. They cannot imagine a reversed or restored condition and focus mostly on the object's present appearance (Gega, 1986). The ability to conserve develops gradually. Students typically understand conservation of number between the ages of 6 and 7, of length and amount (solid and liquid) between 7 and 8, of area between 8 and 10, of weight between 9 and 11, and of displaced volume between 13 and 14. These ages will vary when different children are tested or the same children are tested in different contexts (Donaldson, 1978).

Many students cannot discern weight conservation in some tasks until they are 15 years old. The ability to conserve weight in a task involving transformation from liquid to gas or solid to gas may rise from 5% in 9-year-old children to about 70% in 14- to 15-year-old-children (Stavy, 1990). More complex changes, such as chemical reactions, especially those where gas is absorbed or released, are still more difficult to grasp as instances of weight conservation (Stavy, 1990).

Fourth-graders' representations of changes over time are "data-driven" in the sense that the particular data in the problem are the most important. This contrasts with "system-driven" representations in which the emphasis is on overall patterns. Unfortunately, students are typically introduced to system-driven representations while they still think it is a wrong or meaningless way to convey information (Tierney & Nemirovsky, 1991).