Everything has its processes, one could say: a longitudinal study following students' ideas about transformations of matter from age 7 to 16

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis concerns students’ learning and meaning-making in science. The theoretical framework builds upon Human Constructivism. This perspective underlines the unique interplay that occurs between thinking, feeling, and acting in human meaning-making and also stresses the important role of language in learning processes.

The aim of the thesis is to learn more about how individual students develop their understanding of processes in which different kinds of transformations of matter occur. This aim is connected to the opinion that such knowledge can help in the development of teaching approaches leading to meaningful learning.

A ten year longitudinal study has been conducted in which 20 students’ conceptions of matter and its transformations have been followed from age 7 to 16. In interviews performed once or twice every year the students described and explained the transformations of matter in three situations: the future of fading leaves left lying on the ground, the disappearance of the wax of a burning candle, and the appearance of mist on the inside of the cover of a glass of water. As part of the study, an early (at the age of 7) introduction of the idea of the particulate nature of matter was made.

The study contributes to earlier studies on students’ ideas about transformations of matter by showing how students develop their ability to explain such processes in everyday situations. The study shows that students develop understanding of phenomena with a strong personal flavour. There is a spread in the students’ capability to use their experiences and the school science in productive ways to elaborate their ideas into more scientifically acceptable ones. This spread becomes greater during the compulsory school.

The study shows the young students’ competence to use a simple molecule concept in productive ways in their explanations of the situations but it also shows the older students’ difficulties in using the science taught in later school-years. A conclusion is that fundamental concepts, such as the particle model, could be introduced in early school-years but only if the concept is continuously worked on and elaborated.

Because of the longitudinal design the great impact of early experiences, both from family life and school, on students’ ideas is revealed. By following the individual students’ meaning-making over a ten year period and allowing them to comment on their own interview responses it becomes obvious that meaningful learning takes time.

Different kinds of longitudinal studies that can inform us further about students’ meaningful learning in relation to science curricula are asked for as a result of the findings of this study. Longitudinal studies that can reveal how students’ and/or teachers’ ideas about the purpose of schooling change over time are also asked for.

Original languageEnglish
  • Helldén, Gustav, Supervisor
  • Ekborg, Margareta, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Pedagogy (50301)


  • longitudinal study
  • primary education
  • science learning
  • secondary education
  • the particulate nature of matter
  • transformations of matter


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