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Experimental Strategies and Conceptual Change

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Experimental Strategies and Conceptual Change

The article The Development of Scientific Reasoning in Knowledge-Rich Contexts

written by Leona Schauble relates a series of experiments which give some insight as to

how conceptual change and experimental strategies effect subjects of varying ages, ten

fifth and sixth graders and ten noncollege adults. The conclusions drawn from the article

are relevant in determining the cognitive strengths and weaknesses in the subjects as well

as how these strengths and weaknesses vary as a result of differing ages. The objective of

the study was to track changes in both the theories and reasoning strategies used by

participants who conduct and interpret repeated cycles of experiments over several

sessions to learn about the causal structure of two physical science systems. The exact

experiments are not needed to understand the results of the experiments as long as the

experimentation strategies and conceptual changes are understood.

The experimentation strategies approach tends to emphasize concern for logical

validity, (i.e. how the problem pieces together and why). The conceptual change approach

tends to be more concerned with the plausibility and explanatory coherence as tests for

deciding whether knowledge should be adopted. Schauble (1996) states that "because

previous work focused either on the validity of strategies or the coherence of conceptions,

it has tended to mask these close interrelations" (p.102). Therefore the results of the

experiments are incredibly useful in determining how validity and coherence play

complementary roles.

As stated earlier, it is not important that the exact nature of the experiments be listed as

long as the reader understands their validity. Each subject was asked to solve a series of

complex tasks in which the subjects attempted to "discover the causal relationships

between variables and outcomes in multivariable contexts" (Schauble, 1996, p.102).

The adults conducted more informative experiments, giving them an advantage, yet both

groups showed some improvement in understanding domain context.

The intrigue surrounding these experiments is centered on what can be inferred from

the learning habits observed in both the children and the adults. Even though the adults

had barely any more schooling than the children, it is not surprising that the adults had

more complex and comprehensive experimentation strategies. Such strategies can be

obtained through personal experience. It makes sense that the adults would still have a

wider knowledge base to choose from, helping them to be more systematic. However, it

is interesting that both groups continued to use incorrect strategies long after they had

proved invalid. Both groups tended to favor a particular strategy and attempted to

manipulate the other variables to make sense of that favored strategy.

The article does not explain this phenomena, it simply states that it did happen. The

subjects even went as far as reverting back to old strategies that failed on similar

experiences. This may be due to favored heuristics that determine an individuals problem

solving skills. However, if this were true it would seem that adults would prove even

more persistent in their incorrect strategies as their heuristics are more fully developed.

The study shows

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