From Everyday Science to Formalized Scientific Understanding: A Cognitive Instructional Approach to Seasonal Change

Directors: Tony Petrosino, Richard Lehrer and Leona Schauble
Funding: James S. McDonnell Foundation's Cognitive Studies in Educational Practice

 This study investigates opportunities for model-based reasoning that occur in a typical science classroom as students move conceptually from intuitive everyday understanding to more formalized scientific understanding. Researchers are identifying the qualitative knowledge that uninstructed students hold of a common everyday scientific phenomena (seasonal change). This initial phase is based on research previously conducted with similar age students. This task will provide evidence about the students' mental models of the seasons, including their notion of relevant variables, the functions of the system (earth-sun), and their understanding of the interrelations among them.

Next, through a bottom-up instructional approach, researchers hope to amplify and document the reasoning and meaning making that occurs in a typical public middle-school classroom when extended and systematic work takes place to explore a personally meaningful phenomenon or question.

Finally, researchers envision the use of the Internet and the World Wide Web in going from a classroom to a global community of practice. In verifying and revising theories, students will communicate and debate those theories, which will lead to more sophisticated explanatory models as well as allowing the students and teachers to belong to an expanding group of engaged peers. Access to climatic data from around the world as well as opportunities to engage with other classrooms will add a new dimension to the classroom community.