Models and Representations
Although they may not realize it, most young students already have experience with observing, testing, and experimenting with models. Stuffed animals, toy cars, houses, and dolls serve as models for their live or larger counterparts. Students often use models to emulate the behaviors or functions of the animal, person, or object being modeled through their natural play and “pretend” world. During this type of play, students may test different hypotheses such as how far a toy car will travel when pushed with a certain amount of force, or whether a stuffed bear can eat what a child eats. Young students are similar to practicing scientists in that their use of models allows them to test or act out a function or behavior that may not be safe, appropriate, or feasible with the living or “real” object.
Children’s models can even be more abstract in their representation of an original object. Take, for example, the figures that children make out of clay or other materials to represent themselves, their parents, siblings, or pets. Although the basic parts are present, these models tend to be less realistic in their representation than commercially available dolls. And yet, students easily understand that the sculptures stand for certain persons or objects. Along the same lines, children are experts in understanding even more abstract representations. In their games of “pretend,” blocks can represent a door, a house, people, or even food. Blankets may represent water, and spoons diving boards. In this sense, children may be more open to interpretation of models than many adults.
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