All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Ann Dominick

Advisory Committee Members

Kay Emfinger

Lynn Kirkland

Jenna Lachenaye

Amelia Spencer

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) School of Education


One of the most pressing issues in the field of early childhood is the support of young children’s science learning by using what educators know about how children develop and learn combined with the concepts, tools, and structure of science learning. Science literacy in the U.S. includes not only the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts but also specific types of abilities: the practices of thinking, reasoning, analyzing, and communicating. Preschool children have the capacity to use reasoning and inquiry skills as they investigate how the world around them works. However, current traditional science curriculum for preschoolers limits opportunities to think, or form mental relationships. Piaget called these relationships logico-mathematical knowledge and it is one essential component of science learning for four- and five-year- olds. A growing body of literature has focused on the link between logico-mathematical knowledge and mathematics learning. Yet, little empirical research has been conducted on logico-mathematical knowledge and scientific learning with preschoolers. In particular, no studies have explored this population’s thinking as they participate in physical knowledge tasks. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore four- and five-year-old’s scientific thinking as they participate in physical knowledge activities called design challenges in an urban summer enrichment program in the Southeastern United States. Using a critical exploration design, the children explored the subject matter and the researcher explored the children’s thinking. The researcher collected data using informal observations/field notes, photographs, and video to assess 17 preschoolers. Findings revealed that children are capable of thinking scientifically as early as ages 4 and 5. Additionally, the preschool students’ scientific thinking was conceptualized within four levels of development. As a result, the Four-Phase Model of Theory Building in Preschool Children was generated. This study has clear implications for research and practice, including science instruction for four- and five-year-olds that allows for and encourages thinking, reasoning, and logic. It also recommends specific curriculum selection and teacher responses in support of the Four Phase Model of Theory Building.

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