Talking About Electricity: The Importance of Hearing Gestures As Well As Words

  • Carol J. Callinan
Part of the Contributions from Science Education Research book series (CFSE, volume 2)


Children’s gestures have been proposed to contain important cues and clues to their science ideas that may not be revealed in speech or written language. New and innovative research has begun to explore the way that these gestures can be used to inform on how children’s ideas for science concepts change. Such research is firmly embedded in a constructivist perspective (Driver R et al. Educ Res 23(7):5–12, 1994), which has a strong background of research exploring ‘alternative frameworks’ (Driver R, Bell, B, SSR 67:443455, 1986) and proposals for the identification and understanding of the underlying mechanisms that support such conceptual change dynamics (Vosniadou S, International handbook of research on conceptual change. Routledge, Oxon, 2008). Typically, conceptual change literature accesses children’s knowledge largely through verbal reports (e.g. Primary SPACE Projects 1990–1994). Whilst these approaches have been successful in revealing what children know, this bias towards language at the expense of other forms of communication may prevent a comprehensive understanding of knowledge growth (Goldin-Meadows S, Child Dev 71(1):231–239, 2000). This chapter discusses a recent study which explored the gestures that children used during discussions of their ideas about electricity and revealed that gestures can be categorised according to content (as highlighted in a pilot study by Callinan (Sharp JG, Prim Sci 120(Nov/Dec):29–31, 2011) and that the content of gestures can reveal elements of knowledge that is not verbalised in speech.


Learning in science Constructivism Conceptual change Multimodal research Gesture 



This work was supported by a PhD scholarship from Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, UK; the author wishes to thank supervisor Professor John Sharp for his valuable support and constructive feedback throughout the project. Furthermore, the author is extremely grateful to all of the participating schools, head teachers, teachers, TAs and children who generously gave their time and made this project possible.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social ScienceBishop Grosseteste UniversityLincolnUK

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