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The Brain Controls Everything: Children's Ideas About the Body

reviewed by Saoussan Maarouf - June 06, 2017

coverTitle: The Brain Controls Everything: Children's Ideas About the Body
Author(s): Gunnhildur Óskarsdóttir
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681233789, Pages: 234, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

Early education is a critical period for science development in students. Children’s knowledge of science in these early years foretells their science achievement in later years, and probably throughout their school career (Judson, 2010). Knowing that early science learning predicts later achievements in other academic disciplines, science reasoning appears to be a vital component of learning and thinking. One can argue that investigating children’s ideas about the body is one of the most intriguing areas in science education. The basic motive for researching this topic might be the fact that human organs and functions are familiar from daily life. Hence, investigating children’s understanding and misconception of this topic can be utilized to gauge their scientific reasoning in regards to concepts they have encountered in their daily experiences or in school.

The Brain Controls Everything: Children’s Ideas About the Body is a volume in a series called Cognition, Equity, and Society: International Perspectives, whose author, Gunnhildur Óskarsdóttir, is the Head of Faculty of Teacher Education at the University of Iceland School of Education. She has broad experience in Teacher Education, Teaching Methods, and Science Education. This book investigates the development of children’s ideas about the body by conducting a two-year study on six and seven-year-old students at a primary school in Iceland. The study followed a constructivist approach by examining the role of the teacher’s interaction with the students, in addition to peer interaction and classroom environment, as well as the impact of learning on socially “active” and “quiet” students.

The literature review chapter is well scripted. The author provides detailed theoretical background about cognition as viewed by the constructivist theory and its effect on the teaching/learning process. She reiterates the constructivist’s approach by recognizing the importance of studying student/environment interactions as the foundation of assessing students’ cognitive development. The author also provides a rich collection of prior studies that addressed children’s ideas about the body and the location and function of various systems and organs. She indirectly addresses the topic of “social withdrawal” and its effect on the cognitive development of children by contrasting the student learning between “active” and “quiet” children.

The participants in this study included 20 students between six and seven years old, and one main teacher. The author recognizes a research validity concern since the study does not address the impact of outside learning between pre- and post-tests, and disregards the potential effect of student maturation over the course of a two-year period. However, the use of four different triangulation methods (data, investigator, theory, and methodological) in this multi-textual ethnography research enhances the validity of the study. The use of exploratory and qualitative analysis that employed classroom observations, videotaping, attending teachers’ meetings, interviews, and the use of various artifacts proved a well-suited methodological approach for this type of research. A limited quantitative analysis using t-test and Pearson correlation is done when comparing a change or a relationship between certain research variables.

The findings of this study are presented in Chapter Four. The collected data came from three different sources: drawings, interviews, and diagnostic tasks. Comparison of results between these different sources does not match well for all systems and organs in the body. One reason that might have contributed to such discrepancies is that the drawings were collected during the study period, while interviews and diagnostic tasks were collected at the end of the study, after students had spent more time learning about the human body. The author then reports the effect of teaching methods such as mini-lectures, demonstrations, drawings, and interactive activities on the children’s ideas about the body. All teaching methods seem to have had a positive impact on the development of the children’s knowledge, but it is difficult to quantify the effect of each method separately. The impact of student involvement and interaction in the classroom on learning is also reported. The author classifies students into three groups based on their interaction: the “visibly active” group, the “semi-active” group, and the “visibly passive” group. She also investigates the gender difference between the involvement of boys and girls, and reports that boys were much more active than girls.

One important finding is that students’ knowledge about the structure and location of bones in the body is greatly improved after this study. However, it is difficult to assess their learning about the function of the bones using any of the three assessment methods: drawings, interviews, or tasks. Furthermore, the children’s ideas about organs did not significantly change after the study. However, they were able to name more organs, clearly illustrate their locations and positions, and describe their functions in a simple way. The author concludes that by the end of the study the children were generally more aware about structure, location, and function of the organs, but not necessarily how the organ systems work and interrelate. She also states that different teaching methods have different impacts on students. To achieve greater student learning, she encourages teachers to adopt a variety of teaching strategies in their classrooms. Surprisingly, this study shows that teaching has more impact on the “quiet” and the “semi-active” children than the “active” ones. The author states that “active” children started with higher initial scores, which might have contributed to their lower progression gain. This is an important finding since the topic of “social withdrawal” and its effect on the cognitive development of children is of great interest to both researchers and educators. In fact, there has been conceptual ambiguity in the research area when studying shyness and social withdrawal. Using different terms to describe this research topic has contributed to this confusion (Rubin & Asendorpf, 1993). In addition, the author highlights the importance of the use of drawings as an effective assessment method. In fact, drawing can be a very powerful tool to understand the cognitive development of young children. When children represent ideas and objects through drawings, they are in fact utilizing a complex and challenging process that requires higher levels of thinking. Drawing combines the actions of the hand and the mind in meaningful ways for children. Watching children draw can provide teachers with a clear indication of some of their individual thought patterns. It can also provide many opportunities for a dialogue between teacher and child (Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2006).

Overall, the book significantly contributes to the development of children’s ideas about the human body and how this topic can be taught and assessed by classroom teachers. Primary school students are curious by nature, which makes the human body an ideal subject for them to learn. Human anatomy is an active subject that allows students to explore their bodies and discover new things. The science education community generally accepts the idea that children have their own understanding of how the body works prior to receiving formal science instruction. These understandings often do not agree with the scientifically accepted view of the world (Driver, Squires, Rushworth, & Wood-Robinson, 1994). Investigating children's inexperienced interpretations of the body will shed some light and provide guidance for prospective and practicing teachers. Once teachers know the way their students think, they can implement instructional techniques and activities to challenge existing student ideas. Teachers can target their students’ misconceptions by planning activities and questions in advance. In general, students' misconceptions are not addressed in the curriculum, allowing them to exist unchallenged.


Driver, R., Squires, A., Rushworth, P. & Wood-Robinson, V. (1994). Making sense of secondary science; Research into children’s ideas. London, England: RoutledgeFalmer.

Judson, E. (2010). Science education as a contributor to adequate yearly progress and accountability programs. Science Education, 94(5), 888-902.

Rubin, K. H., & Asendorpf, J. (1993). Social withdrawal inhibition, and shyness in childhood. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Stiggins, R.J., Arter, J.A., Chappuis, J, & Chappuis, S. (2006). Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing it right – using it well.  Portland, OR: Educational Testing Service.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 06, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22014, Date Accessed: 10/26/2021 4:32:43 AM

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About the Author
  • Saoussan Maarouf
    Columbus State University
    E-mail Author
    SAOUSSAN MAAROUF, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Early Childhood at the College of Education and Health Professions at Columbus State University (CSU). Her educational background and certification include a Doctorate of Education in Curriculum and Leadership, a Master of Education in Early Childhood, a Reading Endorsement Certification in Early Childhood, and a Post-Baccalaureate Certification in Early Childhood from CSU. Dr. Maarouf earned her Bachelor degree in Communication with a specialty in Journalism from the Lebanese University, Beirut – Lebanon. Her current research interests include: cognitive development in early childhood, diversity in the classroom, classroom assessment, and program evaluation.
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