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Ideas about the Human Body among Secondary Students in South Africa and Sweden
Kristianstad University, Sweden. (Institutionen för tema, Linköping)
Kristianstad University, Sweden.
University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Linköping University, Department of Science and Technology, Media and Information Technology. Linköping University, The Institute of Technology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4694-5611
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In both Sweden and South Africa, the science curriculum for the secondary level emphasizes learning about the functioning of the human body. Both curricula also emphasize the importance of living a healthy life. In this paper the focus is on how students’ ideas about the human body are constituted in explanations of three different scenarios, and in what way the students are transferring explanations between these scenarios. The study surveyed 161 9th grade students in five different schools in South Africa, and discusses the results in perspective of a previous study involving 88 students in Sweden. In both countries issues about body and health are discussed in several different subjects in school. The same data collection methods were used in both countries: drawings, written questions (open-ended and multiple-choice items), and interviews with selected students. The questions emerge from three scenarios: what happens in the body when you eat an open sandwich, drink water, and swallow a painkiller. We report that it is difficult for the students to horizontally transfer knowledge of the digestive system to other less well-known scenarios. In comparing the use of three systems in the painkiller-scenario to the horizontal transfer between the sandwichand the painkiller-scenarios we see that the difference is much less pronounced in South African results compared to the Swedish study. There are more similarities than differences between the results of this South Africa study and results obtained in Europe, but there are also differences especially with regard to non-scientific ideas about the human body.

Keyword [en]
Students’ ideas, organ systems, horizontal and vertical transfer
National Category
Social Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-75199OAI: diva2:504576
Available from: 2012-02-21 Created: 2012-02-21 Last updated: 2016-05-04Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Om organsystemens organisation och funktion– analys av elevsvar från Sverige och Sydafrika: analys av elevsvar från Sverige och Sydafrika
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Om organsystemens organisation och funktion– analys av elevsvar från Sverige och Sydafrika: analys av elevsvar från Sverige och Sydafrika
2012 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [sv]

Syftet med denna avhandling är att studera svenska och sydafrikanska elevers föreställningar om kroppens byggnad och funktion, samt hur dessa föreställningar påverkar närliggande frågeställningar. Datainsamling har skett genom att flera olika typer av enkäter samt intervjuer använts. Samtliga elever som deltog gick i årskurs nio. Det var 88 elever i den svenska och 166 i den Sydafrikanska datainsamlingen.

Resultaten visar att elever har en god förmåga att beskriva matspjälkningssystemet då de beskriver en smörgås väg genom kroppen, och de visar även god förmåga att koppla samman blodsystemet till matspjälkningsorganen för detta scenario. Däremot har eleverna svårigheter att överföra denna kunskap till ett nytt sammanhang då de skulle beskriva en värktabletts väg genom kroppen. Eleverna hade inte fått undervisning om värktablettens väg genom kroppen, så detta var ett nytt sammanhang för dem. Det visade sig vara än svårare för eleverna att koppla samman ytterligare ett organsystem, det vill säga urinorganen, när de skulle beskriva vattnets väg genom kroppen. Trots att urinorganen finns beskrivna i läroboken och eleverna hade fått undervisning om dessa. Det fanns också elever som visade icke vetenskapligt vedertagna modeller och beskrev vattnets väg genom kroppen genom att rita ett rör direkt från halsen till njuren. Dessa elever kunde inte beskriva njuren främsta funktion som är att rena blodet. En liknande studie genomfördes i fem Sydafrikanska skolor och det visade sig att den i Sverige, och i andra europeiska studier, vanliga icke vetenskapliga förklaringen med en direktkoppling mellan matspjälkningsorganen och njurarna var mycket ovanlig bland dessa elever. Nästan hälften av de sydafrikanska eleverna visade istället en föreställning om att vattnet passerar lungorna på sin väg till magsäcken. Det fanns även mindre mängd elever som även ansåg att maten skulle passera lungorna innan magsäcken. När det gäller vattenfrågan har en djupare analys gjorts på 5 av de svenska elevernas enkät- och intervjusvar. Det visade sig att elevernas föreställningar antingen var desamma eller förändrades till en mindre sofistikerad förklaringsmodell mellan enkät och intervjusvar då det gällde vattnets väg genom kroppen, detta skiljer sig från frågeställningen med smörgåsen där intervjun visade på liknande eller bättre resultat.

Abstract [en]

The purpose of this thesis is to study Swedish and South African students’ beliefs about the body and its functions, and how these ideas correlated with answers to associated questions. Data was obtained from several different types of surveys and interviews. All the students who participated in the studies were in grade nine. There were 88 students in the Swedish data collection and 166 in the South African data collection.

The results show that students have the ability to describe the digestive system when they describe a sandwich pathway through the body, and also the ability to link the circulatory system to the digestive system. However, students have difficulties to transfer this knowledge to a new context when they were asked to describe a painkiller’s pathway through the body. The painkiller pathway through the body had not been taught in school. But it was even more difficult for students to connect three organ systems, namely the excretory system, as was the case when they were asked to describe the pathway of water through the body. Although the excretory system is described in the textbook and the students had been taught about the same. There were also students using non-scientific ideas and drew a pipe directly from the throat to the kidney. These students found it more difficult to understand the function of the kidneys. A similar study was conducted in five South African schools where it was found, contrary to Sweden and other European studies, students describing that water is passing through the lungs on its way to the stomach, some students also said that the food would pass through the lungs before the stomach. Some of the students clarified that water and for that matter, the food, passes the lungs to purify it. A deeper analysis has been done regarding the water on five Swedish students' questionnaire and interview responses. It turned out that students' ides were either the same or changed to a less sophisticated explanation in the interview responses compared to the answer in the questionnaires when it came to the pathway of water through the body, this is different from the question of the sandwich where the interview showed similar or more sophisticated results.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2012. 102 p.
Studies in Science and Technology Education, ISSN 1652-5051 ; 51
National Category
Social Sciences
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-75200 (URN)978-91-7519-960-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2012-03-16, Aulan, Hus 7, Högskolan Kristianstad, Kristianstad, 13:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2012-02-21 Created: 2012-02-21 Last updated: 2016-05-04Bibliographically approved

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