In the field of science education, color can provide an interdisciplinary learning content, potentially suitable for overcoming disciplinary fragmentation and promoting in students a general attitude towards dealing with problems. However, because of its polysemic nature, it is very difficult to make students able to interpret, within the theoretical paradigm of modern science, a concept that they first learn to know through perceptual experience. As a pervasive phenomenon of our daily life, color vision gives rise, indeed, to a variety of naïve conceptions – similar to the pre-Newtonian ones – that act as a filter to the new learning contents. In this context we identified, through a historical-epistemological analysis, the ancient contrast between simple and compound colors as a source of potential misconceptions to be investigated empirically. We hypothesized we could detect some misconceptions due to the lack of awareness of the different contexts – physics, physiology of vision, painters’ practice – in which the distinction between primary and secondary colors can be introduced, assuming different meanings in each one. We also believed that these misconceptions were relatively independent of the subjects’ level of education (children/teachers). Then an empirical research was conducted by administering two different self-completed questionnaires to a non-probabilistic sampling of convenience made up of primary school teachers and fifth-grade pupils, respectively. The results of research on both teachers’ and children’s misconceptions seem to confirm what hypothesized.
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