Carbon-transforming processes inquiry learning progression
Learning progressions are descriptions of increasing levels of sophistication of student reasoning about a topic. Learning progressions are based on empirical evidence and are increasingly used in education reform and in development of teaching strategies, standards for student learning and student assessment. Our previous learning progression research about student explanations of carbon-transforming processes (e.g. photosynthesis, respiration) and has described how student’s interconnected and mutually supporting ideas and practices are deeply embedded in discourse at all levels of achievement. This research extends our learning progressions to student reasoning during inquiry activities about carbon-transforming processes. Our objective is to develop a new learning progression framework for student inquiry practices while learning about carbon-transforming processes. In interviews of middle and high school students (n=54), non-major undergraduate students (n=37), and experts (academic scientists and science teachers, n=6) subjects evaluated the quality of two arguments and associated numerical evidence about the source of mass of a growing plant. In written assessments subjects (n=1100) described the best methods for measuring plant growth and evaluated data about the source of mass for a growing mouse.
We focused on two key inquiry practices: measurement and constructing arguments from evidence. One key trend in the interview and written assessment data concerns students’ abilities to notice and manage uncertainty. The higher-level students used scientific reasoning to notice sources of uncertainty, such as precision and accuracy in measurements and flaws in experimental design. They also constructed arguments that link conclusions to evidence using scientific reasoning. The lower-level students rarely questioned the accuracy and validity of data before pattern finding. Rather than connecting the evidence to a claim, lower-level students often misinterpreted the purpose of the experiment, noticed irrelevant details, or suggested explanations based on their personal experience. Also, these students did not use mass data as a strategy for tracing materials in an experiment, suggesting that they did not have a sense of necessity for conservation of matter. Teaching supports that scaffold student learning about conservation of matter may be important in guiding student inquiry practices. Our observations of student reasoning inform empirically-defined levels of achievement in the framework of the inquiry learning progression.