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Author: Fulcrum Institute Development Team

What do Children Typically Think? (~ 1 hr.)

In Session 6 you read about children’s ideas in some major areas of science and some reasons they may differ from the scientific point of view. What about heat and temperature? This week you'll meet nine-year old Alisha and hear some of her ideas about heat transfer.

But before you meet Alisha, familiarize yourself with some research on children’s ideas about heat transfer by reading An Overview of Pupil's Ideas (PDF) about heat and temperature by Gaalen Erickson in Children's Ideas in Science, pages 53-66.

In your journal

Jot down what you learn about the development of children’s ideas about heat transfer. Keep an eye out for the ideas of children Alisha's age. As you read, keep the scientific explanation of heat transfer in mind and consider these two questions:

  • How do children’s ideas compare with the scientific point of view?
  • Why is it that students seem to have so much difficulty understanding heat and temperature?

Formative Assessment in the Case of Alisha (~2.5 hrs.)

A. Collecting evidence

We have three ways of gaining access to childrens' ideas

  • listening to what they say;
  • looking at their work products;
  • observing what they do.

In this session, we focus on listening to children. We begin with an individual interview with Alisha. We collected the evidence by taping the interview and making a transcript.

In a minute you'll have a chance to look closely at a piece of an interview with an eye and ear towards the questions the interviewer asks and Alisha's responses. But first. let's set the context.

As part of her research into children's ideas about heat and temperature, Tracy Noble conducted interviews with several children. We drop into part of her conversation with nine-year old Alisha. She has told Tracy that her past activities in science have not included anything about heat and temperature.

Prior to this part of their conversation, Alisha has explored the ways rods and spoons made of metal and plastic feel to her at room temperature. Tracy has put a cup of ice cubes and water on their table and puts a metal spoon and a plastic spoon into the ice water. She is interested in Alisha’s ideas about heat transfer from the room temperature spoons to the ice water.

View the Interview with Alisha video clips and transcript.

On a printout of the transcript, highlight evidence of Alisha's ideas about heat transfer.

B. Interpreting Alisha's responses

Working from a transcript allows you to take as much time as you need to figure out what you think Alisha is thinking and compare her ideas to what researchers have found to be typical of children her age. This way of slowing down the conversation hones our listening skills and increases our knowledge of children's ideas about science phenomena.

Interpret evidence of Alisha's ideas from the transcript you've highlighted.

  • What do you notice about the way Alisha uses her prior experience to make sense of a new situation?
  • What does Alisha think is going on when the spoons are put in ice water?
  • If Tracy carried out the same interview with a scientist, what do you predict the scientist would say is going on? (After you answer this question, view an Interview with physicist Roger Tobin to see what he has to say.)
  • How do Alisha's ideas compare with research in how children her age understand heat transfer?

C. Deciding appropriate next steps

All too often, we collect and interpret evidence yet fail to use it to plan appropriate next steps. Taking her age into account and imagining Alisha is a student in your classroom, what is a possible next step you might plan to help her move her understanding of heat transfer forward? Explain your reasoning.

Harlen suggests categories of 'next step' strategies. These are elaborated in Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Science 5-12, Chapter 11.

  • Extending children's experiences
  • Helping children test their ideas.
  • Providing access to alternative ideas.
  • Promoting communication, dialogue, and reflection

In Your Classroom (~1 hr.)

Classroom research: conducting an interview

In the weeks ahead, you'll be conducting your own interview. This week we prepare for this. The planning you do before you conduct the interview, the interview itself, and the analysis of the transcript, will improve your listening skills - not only in one-to-one conversation but as you listen to a group of students discuss their work or carry out a whole-class discussion.

Between now and the end of Session 9, conduct a 15-20 minute interview with one child, of any age, to find out what he or she thinks about heat transfer. Use the same task you saw Tracy use in the video to probe a child’s ideas.

A. Plan a 15-20 minute interview

Planning is really important to the success of your interview. Plan to spend at least an hour crafting the interview questions and planning logistics. Plan to audio- or videotape the session so that you can focus on your interaction with the child.

We asked Tracy Noble to talk about the interview process. Print out a copy of the questions we asked in the Interview with Tracy and her responses so you can read and refer to it as you plan your interview.

Caution:  Teachers tell us the hard part of an interview is taking off your teacher hat. The goal is to reveal the ideas the child has, not to change them. We’ll address the change process later.

Get ready

  • Identify the idea or question you want to probe.
  • Identify a child and arrange for a quiet place and time for a 15-20 minutes interview.
  • Plan what you will tell the child about the purpose of the interview and what you will do with the information. Take a few minutes before the interview to talk casually about the child's interests to set a comfortable tone.
  • Obtain permission from the parent and child to videotape or audiotape the interview (see a Sample Permission Form).
  • Explain that you are taking a course and learning how to improve your ability to find out what students are thinking as they learn science.
  • Try out any tasks you plan to observe yourself. Write down the questions you plan to ask.
  • Decide what evidence you will collect (taped responses, drawings, observations either videotaped or jotted down during the interview).
  • Gather needed materials.
  • Try out your interview with another person - a colleague, friend, or family member.

B. Conduct the interview

During week 9 and 10, you will complete a 15-20 minute interview with one child and transcribe the interview so it’s ready to use in Session 12.

You will be busy with science investigations in Sessions 8-11 so we encourage you to spread this work out. For example,

  • Session 9 conduct the interview and record it on video or audio tape.
  • Session 10 transcribe the interview

Taking Stock

During the next four weeks, you'll be conducting science investigations and working on your interview. Also put aside time to document examples of formative assessments from your classroom. Remember, you should take stock of your formative assessment practice 3 times by Session 12.