A Study to Determine the Mental Models in Preschool Children’s Conceptualization of a Desert Environment

Berat AHİ


This study aimed to determine mental models and identify codes (schemes) used in conceptualizing a desert environment. The sample for this study consisted of 184 – out of a total population of 3,630 - children in preschool education in the central district of Kastamonu, Turkey. Within the scope of this study, the children were initially asked to draw a desert-themed picture, followed by a semi-structured interview to seek their opinions about the drawing and clarify what a desert environment meant to them. According to the findings, the children referred to 38 different codes relevant to the conceptualization of a desert environment; the most frequently used were the sun (f= 160, 86.9%), sand (f= 100, 54.3%), cacti (f= 74, 35.3%) and camels (f= 52, 28.6%). During the interview phase, 33 children described a desert as a place where there is no life, although a significant number of the children (f= 65, 39.1%) did describe a desert as a place where plants and animals live. Moreover, the sun and its rays were disproportionately bigger in size, in order to emphasize the excessive heat associated with the specific ecosystem found in a desert environment; to reinforce this, humans drenched in sweat, the absence of trees and the prevalence of cacti and exotic wildlife, including camels, scorpions and lizards, were all features of the children’s drawings. Based on these findings, it was inferred that the mental models in some of the children (f= 72, 39.1%) were scientifically informed, with a degree of accuracy, about a desert environment. On the basis of the findings, it is considered that determining mental models in children in relation to different ecological concepts can be beneficial to teachers and curriculum programmers involved in environmental education.


Desert, Mental model, Draw and explain, Child, Ecological concept

Paper Details

Paper Details
Topic Early Childhood Education
Pages 333 - 350
Issue IEJEE, Volume 8, Issue 3
Date of acceptance 17 January 2016
Read (times) 602
Downloaded (times) 450

Author(s) Details

Berat AHİ

Kastamonu University, Turkey


Abella, S. R., Chiquoine, L. P., Newton, A. C. And Vanier, C. H. (2015). Restoring a desert ecosystem using soil salvage, revegetation, and irrigation. Journal of Arid Environments, 115, 44-52.

Ahi, B. (2015). Okul öncesi eğitim programına kaynaştırılan çevre eğitimi programının çocukların çevre kavramı hakkındaki zihinsel model gelişimine etkisi. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Gazi Üniversitesi, Eğitim Bilimleri Enstitüsü, Ankara.

Ahi, B., Balcı, S. & Özcan, H. (2015). Children and the environment: Young children’s understanding of forest and deforestration. Paper presented in 2015 International Business & Education Conferences (2-6 Ağustos 2015, New York, USA).

Alerby, E. (2000). A way of visualising children’s and young people’s thoughts about the environment: A study of drawings. Environmental Education Resarch, 6(3), 205-222.

Bardo, M. (2012, September 7). Desert diversity cut by ‘human activities’. BBC Nature. Retrevied from http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/19466470

Barraza, L. (1999). Children’s drawings about the environment. Environmental Education Research, 5(1), 49-66.

Barrett, J. E., Virginia, R. A., Wall, D. H., Dorans, P.T., Fountain, A.G., Welch, K. A. & Lyons, W.B. (2008). Persistent effects of a discrete warming event on a polar desert ecosystem. Global Change Biology, 14, 2249-2261.

Becker, S., Kleinböhl, D. & Hölzl, R. (2012). Awareness is awareness is awareness? Decomposing different aspects of awareness and their role in operant learning of pain sensitivity. Consciounes and Cognition, 21, 1073-1084.

Braund, M. (1991). Children’s ideas in classifying animals. Journal of Biological Education, 25(2), 103–110.

Braund, M. (1998). Trends in children’s concepts of vertebrate and invertebrate. Journal of Biological Education, 32(2), 112–118.

Brechignac, F. (2011). Technology and the forces of nature: A lesson of humility calling for ecocentrism. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, 7(3), 409-410.

Bruning, R. H., Schraw, G. J. & Norby, M. M. (2014). Bilişsel psikoloji ve öğretim. (Z. N. Ersözlü ve R. Ülker, Çev.). Ankara: Nobel.

Callenbach, E. (2012). Ekoloji. (Çev. E. Özkan). Ankara: Sinek Sekiz Yayınevi.

Coates, E. (2002). ‘I forgot the sky’ children’s stories contained within their drawings. International Journal of Early Years, 10(1), 21-35.

Connar, S. (2006, June 5). Desert life threatened by climate change and human exploitation. The Indipendent. Retrevied from http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/desert-life-threatened-by-climate-change-and-human-exploitation-481116.html

Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches. (2nd Edition). London: SAGE.

Dinç, M. & Özkaya, A. (2009). Ekosistem. Çevre bilimi (Eds. M. Aydoğdu & K. Gezer) içinde. Ss.35-70. Ankara: Anı.

Dunlap, R. E., Van Liere, K. D., Mertig, A. G. & Jones, R. E. (2000). Measuring endorsement of the new ecological paradigm: A revised nep scale. Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 425-442.

Einarsdottir, J., Dockett, S. & Perry, B. (2009). Making meaning: Children’s perspectives expressed through drawings. Early Child Development and Care, 179(2), 217-232.

Ergazaki, M. & Andriotou, E. (2010). From “forest fire” and “hunting” to disturbing “habitats” and “food chains”: Do young children come up with any ecological interpretations of human interventions within a forest? Research in Science Education, 40, 187-201.

Fenk, W., Zhang, Y., Jia, X., Wu, B., Zha, T., Qin, S., Wang, B., Shao, C., Liu, J. & Fa, K. (2014). Impact of environmental factors and biological soil crust types on soil respiration in a desert ecosystem. Plosone, 9(7), 1-10.

Fraenkel, J. R. & Wallen, N. E. (2008). How to design and evaluate research in education. (7th Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Gentner, D. & Stevens, A., L. (1983). Mental models. East Sussex: Taylor & Francis.

Gilbert, J. K. (2004). Models and modelling: Routes to more authentic science education.           International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 2, 115-130.

Gilbert, J. K. Pietrocola, M., Zylbersztajn, A. & Franco, C. (2000). Science and education: Notions of reality, theory and model. J. K. Gilbert ve C. J. Boulter (Eds.), in Developing models in science education, (pp.19-40). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Greca, I., M. & Moreira, M. A. (2000). Mental models, conceptual models, and modelling. International Journal of Science Education, 22(1), 1-11.

Günindi, Y. (2015). Preschool children’s perceptions of the value of affection as seen in their drawings. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 7(3), 371-382.

Hatano, G. & Inagaki, K. (1997). Qualitative changes in intuitive biology. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 12(2), 111-130.

Herrmann, P., Waxman, S. R. & Medin, D. L. (2010). Antropocentrism is not the first step in children’s reasoning about the natural World. PNAS, 107(22), 9979-9984.

Inagaki, K. & Hatano, G. (1993). Young children’s understanding of the mind-body distinction. Child Development, 64, 1534-1549.

Inagaki, K. & Hatano, G. (2006). Young children’s conception of the biological world. Current Direction in Psychological Science, 15(4), 177-181.

Johnson-Laird, P. N. (1983). Mental models. Cambridge: Harvard University.

Judson, E. (2011). The impact of field trips and family involvement on mental models of the desert environment. International Journal of Science Education, 33(11), 1455-1472.

Kahriman-Öztürk, D., Olgan, R. & Güler, T. (2012). Preschool Children’s ideas on sustainable development: How preschool children perceive three pillars of sustainability with the regard to 7R. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, Special Issue, 2987-2995.

Kışlalıoğlu, M. & Berkes, F. (2012). Çevre ve ekoloji. (13. Basım) İstanbul: Remzi.

Kurnaz, A., Kıldan, A. O. & Ahi, B. (2012). Mental models of pre-school children regarding the sun, earth and moon. The International Journal of Social Sciences, 7(1), 136-143.

Leonard, M. (2006). Children’s drawings as a methodological tool: reflections on the develop plus system in Northern Ireland. Irish Journal of Sociology. 15(2), 52-66.

Li, L., Chen, X., van der Tol, C., Luo, G. & Su, Z. (2014). Growing season net ecosystem CO2 exchange of two desert ecosystems with alkaline soils in Kazakhstan. Ecology and Evolution, 4(1), 14-26.

Littledyke, M. (2004). Primary children’s view on science and environmental issues. Examples of environmental cognitive and moral development. Environmental Education Research, 10(2), 217-235.

Liu, S. C. & Lin, H. (2014). Undergraduate students’ ideas about nature and human-nature relatiopships: An empirical analysis of environmental worldviews. Environmental Education Research, 20(3), 412-429.

Liu, S. C., & Lin, H. (2015). Exploring undergraduate students’ mental models of the environment: Are they related to environmental affect and behavior? The Journal of Environmental Education, 46(1), 23-40.

Loughland, T., Reid, A., & Petocz, P. (2002). Young people’s conceptions of environment: A phenomenographic analysis. Environmental Education Research, 8(2), 187-197.

Mason, H., L. ve Langenheim, J., H. (1957). Language analysis and the concept “environment”. Ecological Society of America, 38(2), 325-340.

Ministry of National Education. (2015). National education statics. Formal education [Adobe Digital Editions version]. Retrieved from http://sgb.meb.gov.tr/ istatistik/ meb_istatistikleri_orgun_egitim_2014_2015.pdf

Moseley, C, Desjean-Perrotta, B. & Utley, J. (2010). The draw an environment test rubric (DAET-R): Exploring pre-service teachers’ mental models of the environment. Environmental Education Research, 16(2), 189-208.

National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaption Strategy. (2012). Desert ecosystem. Retrieved from http://www.wildlifeadaptationstrategy.gov/pdf/Desert_Ecosystems_Paper.pdf

Nobes, G., Moore, D., G., Martin, A., E., Clifford, B., R., Butterworth, G., Panagiotaki, G., & Siegal, M. (2003). Children’s understanding of the earth in a multicultural community: Mental models or fragments of knowledge?. Developmental Science, 6(1), 72-85.

Noble, I. R. (2014). Deserts in a changing climate: Impacts (Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report). Retrevied from http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full.pdf

Özsoy, S. & Ahi, B. (2014). Elementary school students’ perceptions of the future environment through artwork. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 14(4), 1-26.

Özsoy, S., Özsoy, G. & Kuruyer, G. (2011). Turkish pre-service primary school teachers' environmental attitudes: Effects of gender and grade level. Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, 12(2), 1-21.

Pallant, J. (2011). SPSS survival manual. Australia: Allen & Unwin.

Palmer, J. A. (1994). Acquisition of environmental subject knowledge in pre-school children: An international study. Children’s Environments, 11(3), 204-211.

Panagiotaki, G., Nobes, G. & Potton, A. (2009). Mental models and other misconceptions in children’s understanding of the earth. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 104, 52-67.

Piaget, J. (1970). Genetic epistemology. New York: Norton & Company.

Piperno, F., Di Biassi, S., & Levi, G. (2007). Evaluation of family drawings of physically and sexually abused children. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 16(6), 389-397.

Prokop, P., Kubiatko, M. & Fančovičová, J. (2007). Why do Cocks Crow? Children’s Concepts About Birds. Research in Science Education, 37, 393-405.

Ross, L. E. & Nelson, M. N. (1973). The role of awareness in differential conditioning. Psychophysiology, 10(1), 91-94.

Saçkes, M. & Korkmaz, H. İ. (2015). Anaokulu çocuklarının dünyanın şekline ilişkin zihinsel modelleri. İlköğretim Online, 14(2), 734-743.

Samarapungavan, A. Vosniadou, S. & Brewer, W., F. (1996). Mental model of the earth, sun and moon: Indian children’ s comologies. Cognitive Development, 11, 491-521.

Schafer, N. (2012). Finding ways to do research on, with and for children and young people. Geography, 97(3), 147-154.

Shekhawat, N. S., Phulwaria, M., Harish, Rai, M. K., Kataria, V., Shekhawat, S., Gupta, A. K., Rathore, N. S., Vyas, M., Rathore, N., Vibha, J. B., Choudhary, S. K., Patel, A. K., Lodha, D. & Modi, R. (2012). Bioresearchers of fragile ecosystem/desert. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., India, Sect. B Biol. Sci., 82(2), 319-334.

Shepardson, D. P. (2002). Bugs, butterflies, and spiders: Children’s understanding about insects. International Journal of Science Education, 24(6), 627–643.

Shepardson, D. P., Wee, B., Priddy, M. & Harbor, J. (2007). Students’ mental models of the environment. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(2), 327-348.

Straatemeier, M., van der Maas, H. L. J. ve Jansen, B. R. J. (2008). Children’s knowledge of the earth: A new methodological and statistical approach. Journal of Experimental Children Psychology, 100, 276-296.

Strommen, E. (1995). Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Children’s conceptions on forests and their inhabitants. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32(7), 683–689.

Sungur, S., Tekkaya, C. & Geban, Ö. (2001). The contribution of conceptual change texts accompanied by concept mapping to students’ understanding of the human circulatory system. School Science and Mathematics, 101(2), 91-101.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization- United Nations Environment Programme. (1975). The international workshop on environmental education. Belgrade final report. Paris: UNESCO.

United States Global Change Research Program. (2009). Global climate impacts in the United States. (Eds. T.R. Karl, J.M. Melillo, and T.C. Peterson). Cambridge University Press.

Vosniadou, S. & Brewer, W. F. (1992). Mental models of the earth: A study of conceptual change in childhood. Cognitive Psychology, 24, 535-585.

Vosniadou, S. & Brewer, W. F. (1994). Mental models of the day/night cycle. Cognitive Science, 18, 123-183.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1971). The psychology of art. Cambridge: The MIT.

Wiersma, W and Jurs, S. G. (2008). Research methods in education: An introduction. (9th Edition). Boston: Pearson.

World Resource Institue. (2005). Ecosystems and human well-being. Wasginton DC. WRI Press. Retrevied from http://www.millenniumassessment.org/documents/document.355.aspx.pdf

Yardımcı, E. & Bağcı Kılıç, G. (2010). Çocukların gözünden çevre ve çevre sorunları. Elementary Education Online, 9(3), 1122-1136.

Yavuzer, H. (2010). Resimleriyle çocuğu tanıma. (10. Baskı). İstanbul: Remzi.