Professional scientists construct explanations to explain how and why various phenomena in the world operate. Formulating an explanation can allow us to engage in the scientific process by providing a better understanding of new phenomena and the ability to reflect on observations. Both the content and the form of the explanation can influence our understanding of the phenomena to be explained and how we perceive the explanation. In this paper I will attempt to understand in detail the relationship between the content and form of students’ generated causal explanations.
The data presented in this paper was collected from an extra-curriculum summer course conducted in order to investigate students’ intuitive knowledge about patterns that are discussed in the science classroom and which occur in the everyday world (e.g. equilibration, oscillation, chaos, etc.). The two researcher/instructors had expected and scaffolded the students to construct force-based explanations about oscillation. Unexpectedly, the majority of the students’ explanations are based on energy.
Using two complementary analytical approaches I have investigate the relationship between causal form and knowledge pieces within these students’ force and energy explanations. To investigate the causal form of the explanations I will be applying a taxonomy of causal models developed by Grotzer and colleagues (Perkins & Grotzer, 2005; Perkins & Grotzer, 2000; Grotzer & Bell, 1999, etc.). One hypothesis put forth by Grotzer and colleagues is that students’ ability to access various level of complexity of causal form may influence their causal explanation. To analyze students’ knowledge within their causal explanations, I will be using the Knowledge-in-Pieces (KIP) theoretical framework (diSessa, 1993).
These two analyses will illuminate different aspects of the explanations. From the causal forms analysis, the results suggest that both students’ force and energy explanations are of a simple form; this is not completely unexpected given the context of Newtonian Mechanics. Additional results suggest that the causal forms analysis is unable to capture the sophistication of the energy-based explanations and other interesting explanatory characteristics. The results of the Knowledge-in-Pieces analysis suggest that the energy-based explanations contain multiple pieces of intuitive knowledge, including many p-prims and pieces of declarative knowledge; comparably the force-based explanations contain fewer pieces of either type of knowledge. Overall, these two analytical perspectives highlight different aspects of the force and energy explanations. This study has raised questions about Grotzer and colleagues’ taxonomy and questions about the relationship of causal form and knowledge pieces within students’ generated explanations.
Professional scientists construct explanations about various phenomena in the world. Similarly, a...