Thinking and Learning Characteristics of Young People

Here are some generalizations about the "Thinking and Learning Characteristics of Young People" that you may find of use.

A brief summary first: Presenting science and math concepts to Primary level and younger children is generally best done with tactile and visual approaches. By the Upper Elementary grades, most kids like to memorize "facts," and by Middle School, they tend to develop "skepticism" ...and all that this implies.

There is, of course, a wide distribution in the attributes of individual children, and of different populations of students. In addition, teachers have a broad range of strengths and preferences. So use this material only as a general guide in developing PUMAS examples.

The attached table is reproduced by permission of the original sources:

The North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, and the Editor of: Science Education Partnerships.*

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As a thinker As a learner Suggested Teaching Strategies
Primary [K-2]
Approx. Ages: 6-8
  • - Learns through manipulating objects.
  • - Believes what he or she sees.
  • - Can't trace steps back from a conclusion.
  • - Sees parts, not the whole.
  • - Does not understand that making physical changes in an object does not change the amount.
  • - Is expansive, adventurous, curious, eager to learn, energetic, always in motion, loud, and emotional -- has mood swings.
  • - Wants to please adults.
  • - Has difficulty controlling impulses and regulating behavior.
  • - Is very "me" centered. Seeks attention. Loves praise.
  • - Likes to work in groups, but will need assistance.
  • - Can sit still for 10-15 minutes; needs frequent change-of-pace.
  • - Making observations.
  • - Simple manipulations.
  • - Pictorial communications.
  • - Simple comparisons.
Upper Elementary [3-5]
Approx. Ages: 9-11
  • - Although still somewhat tied to seeing in order to believe, begins to understand concepts as well as objects.
  • - Understands hierarchical classification systems.
  • - Can combine, sort, multiply, substitute, divide.
  • - Begins to generalize, formulate hypotheses, use systematic problem-solving strategies.
  • - Likes to memorize, to learn facts.
  • - Understands rules and can follow them.
  • - Likes group activities and excursions. Is a great socializer and is eager to fit in.
  • - Considers fairness to be important.
  • - Takes initiative and is self-motivated.
  • - Is becoming an independent learner.
  • - Avoids opposite sex.
  • - Can sit still and listen 20-30 minutes. (Variety increases attention span.)
  • - Building relationships.
  • - Using space-time relationships.
  • - Formulating inferences.
  • - Drawing simple conclusions.
Middle School [6-8]
Approx. Ages: 12-14
  • - Can hypothesize, create propositions, and evaluate.
  • - Can conceptualize in the abstract and understand probability.
  • - Begins to understand multiple causation.
  • - Developing understanding of ethical principles.
  • - Is emotional, restive, and eager to get moving.
  • - Is easily bored.
  • - Challenges rules, routines, and authority.
  • - Is beginning to have an interest in the opposite sex.
  • - Is typically more oriented to small group activity.
  • - Has a vulnerable ego, is very self-conscious and concerned how he/she is perceived by others.
  • - Can handle 30-40 minute sessions.
  • - Formulating experiments to test hypotheses.
  • - Recognizing and predicting patterns.
  • - Developing models to explain.

* This table first appeared in: Sharing Science with Children: A Survival Guide for Scientists and Engineers, by The North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, Durham, North Carolina, USA, funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

The "Suggested Teaching Strategies" were added by Hector Timourian, "Training the Scientific Community," in Science Education Partnerships, Manual for Scientists and K-12 Teachers, Art Sussman, ed., University of California, San Francisco, 1993.

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