ThinkerTools: Causal Models, Conceptual Change, and Science Education

Barbara White**1993** Cognition and Instruction v. 10, 100 pages.

Barbara White

This article describes an approach that enables sixth graders (i.e., 11- and 12-year-olds) to develop a conceptual model that embodies the principles underlying Newtonian mechanics, and to apply their model in making predictions, solving problems,

and generating explanations. The students' learning centers around problem solving and experimentation with a series of computer microworlds (i.e., a set of interactive simulations and modeling tools that we developed called ThinkerTools). The

objective is for students to construct a series of increasingly sophisticated models for reasoning about how forces affect the motion of objects. To facilitate the evolution of such conceptual models, the microworlds incorporate a variety of linked

alternative representations for force and motion, and a set of game-like activities designed to focus the students' inquiry processes. As part of the pedagogical approach, students formalize what they learn into a set of laws that they examine critically, using criteria such as correctness, generality, and parsimony. They then apply these laws and representations to a variety of real-world problems. This approach integrates the learning of the subject matter with learning about the nature of scientific knowledge -- what are scientific models, how do they evolve, and why are they useful? Instructional trials revealed that the ThinkerTools curriculum is equally effective for males and females and for students of different ability levels. Furthermore, sixth graders taught with this approach did better in solving a set of classic

force and motion problems than did high school students taught using traditional methods.

and generating explanations. The students' learning centers around problem solving and experimentation with a series of computer microworlds (i.e., a set of interactive simulations and modeling tools that we developed called ThinkerTools). The

objective is for students to construct a series of increasingly sophisticated models for reasoning about how forces affect the motion of objects. To facilitate the evolution of such conceptual models, the microworlds incorporate a variety of linked

alternative representations for force and motion, and a set of game-like activities designed to focus the students' inquiry processes. As part of the pedagogical approach, students formalize what they learn into a set of laws that they examine critically, using criteria such as correctness, generality, and parsimony. They then apply these laws and representations to a variety of real-world problems. This approach integrates the learning of the subject matter with learning about the nature of scientific knowledge -- what are scientific models, how do they evolve, and why are they useful? Instructional trials revealed that the ThinkerTools curriculum is equally effective for males and females and for students of different ability levels. Furthermore, sixth graders taught with this approach did better in solving a set of classic

force and motion problems than did high school students taught using traditional methods.

Subject: Physics:Education Foundations:Student Populations, Physics:Education Practices:Instructional Material Design, Technology, Physics:Education Foundations:Learning Theory, Cognition, Physics:Classical Mechanics, Education Foundations:Achievement, Education

Resource Type: Pedagogic Resources:Research Results, Journal Article

Research on Learning: Instructional Design:Constructivism, Scaffolding, Use of Technology, Cognitive Domain:Metacognition, How information is organized:Mental models, Cognitive Domain:Cognitive Development, Affective Domain:Gender Differences