Misconceived causal explanations for emergent processes

Michelene Chi, Rod Roscoe, James D. Slotta, Marguerite Roy, Catherine C. Chase

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

119 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Studies exploring how students learn and understand science processes such as diffusion and natural selection typically find that students provide misconceived explanations of how the patterns of such processes arise (such as why giraffes' necks get longer over generations, or how ink dropped into water appears to "flow"). Instead of explaining the patterns of these processes as emerging from the collective interactions of all the agents (e.g., both the water and the ink molecules), students often explain the pattern as being caused by controlling agents with intentional goals, as well as express a variety of many other misconceived notions. In this article, we provide a hypothesis for what constitutes a misconceived explanation; why misconceived explanations are so prevalent, robust, and resistant to instruction; and offer one approach of how they may be overcome. In particular, we hypothesize that students misunderstand many science processes because they rely on a generalized version of narrative schemas and scripts (referred to here as a Direct-causal Schema) to interpret them. For science processes that are sequential and stage-like, such as cycles of moon, circulation of blood, stages of mitosis, and photosynthesis, a Direct-causal Schema is adequate for correct understanding. However, for science processes that are non-sequential (or emergent), such as diffusion, natural selection, osmosis, and heat flow, using a Direct Schema to understand these processes will lead to robust misconceptions. Instead, a different type of general schema may be required to interpret non-sequential processes, which we refer to as an Emergent-causal Schema. We propose that students lack this Emergent Schema and teaching it to them may help them learn and understand emergent kinds of science processes such as diffusion. Our study found that directly teaching students this Emergent Schema led to increased learning of the process of diffusion. This article presents a fine-grained characterization of each type of Schema, our instructional intervention, the successes we have achieved, and the lessons we have learned.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-61
Number of pages61
JournalCognitive Science
Volume36
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2012

Fingerprint

Students
Ink
Genetic Selection
Teaching
Osmosis
Photosynthesis
Water
Blood Circulation
Moon
Mitosis
Causal Explanation
Blood
Neck
Hot Temperature
Learning
Heat transfer
Molecules
Causal

Keywords

  • Causal explanations
  • Diffusion
  • Emergence
  • Learning
  • Misconceptions
  • Science processes
  • Simulations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

Cite this

Misconceived causal explanations for emergent processes. / Chi, Michelene; Roscoe, Rod; Slotta, James D.; Roy, Marguerite; Chase, Catherine C.

In: Cognitive Science, Vol. 36, No. 1, 01.2012, p. 1-61.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Chi, Michelene ; Roscoe, Rod ; Slotta, James D. ; Roy, Marguerite ; Chase, Catherine C. / Misconceived causal explanations for emergent processes. In: Cognitive Science. 2012 ; Vol. 36, No. 1. pp. 1-61.
@article{46afe4214c6e42a492e3d7473b3341fa,
title = "Misconceived causal explanations for emergent processes",
abstract = "Studies exploring how students learn and understand science processes such as diffusion and natural selection typically find that students provide misconceived explanations of how the patterns of such processes arise (such as why giraffes' necks get longer over generations, or how ink dropped into water appears to {"}flow{"}). Instead of explaining the patterns of these processes as emerging from the collective interactions of all the agents (e.g., both the water and the ink molecules), students often explain the pattern as being caused by controlling agents with intentional goals, as well as express a variety of many other misconceived notions. In this article, we provide a hypothesis for what constitutes a misconceived explanation; why misconceived explanations are so prevalent, robust, and resistant to instruction; and offer one approach of how they may be overcome. In particular, we hypothesize that students misunderstand many science processes because they rely on a generalized version of narrative schemas and scripts (referred to here as a Direct-causal Schema) to interpret them. For science processes that are sequential and stage-like, such as cycles of moon, circulation of blood, stages of mitosis, and photosynthesis, a Direct-causal Schema is adequate for correct understanding. However, for science processes that are non-sequential (or emergent), such as diffusion, natural selection, osmosis, and heat flow, using a Direct Schema to understand these processes will lead to robust misconceptions. Instead, a different type of general schema may be required to interpret non-sequential processes, which we refer to as an Emergent-causal Schema. We propose that students lack this Emergent Schema and teaching it to them may help them learn and understand emergent kinds of science processes such as diffusion. Our study found that directly teaching students this Emergent Schema led to increased learning of the process of diffusion. This article presents a fine-grained characterization of each type of Schema, our instructional intervention, the successes we have achieved, and the lessons we have learned.",
keywords = "Causal explanations, Diffusion, Emergence, Learning, Misconceptions, Science processes, Simulations",
author = "Michelene Chi and Rod Roscoe and Slotta, {James D.} and Marguerite Roy and Chase, {Catherine C.}",
year = "2012",
month = "1",
doi = "10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01207.x",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "36",
pages = "1--61",
journal = "Cognitive Science",
issn = "0364-0213",
publisher = "Wiley-Blackwell",
number = "1",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - Misconceived causal explanations for emergent processes

AU - Chi, Michelene

AU - Roscoe, Rod

AU - Slotta, James D.

AU - Roy, Marguerite

AU - Chase, Catherine C.

PY - 2012/1

Y1 - 2012/1

N2 - Studies exploring how students learn and understand science processes such as diffusion and natural selection typically find that students provide misconceived explanations of how the patterns of such processes arise (such as why giraffes' necks get longer over generations, or how ink dropped into water appears to "flow"). Instead of explaining the patterns of these processes as emerging from the collective interactions of all the agents (e.g., both the water and the ink molecules), students often explain the pattern as being caused by controlling agents with intentional goals, as well as express a variety of many other misconceived notions. In this article, we provide a hypothesis for what constitutes a misconceived explanation; why misconceived explanations are so prevalent, robust, and resistant to instruction; and offer one approach of how they may be overcome. In particular, we hypothesize that students misunderstand many science processes because they rely on a generalized version of narrative schemas and scripts (referred to here as a Direct-causal Schema) to interpret them. For science processes that are sequential and stage-like, such as cycles of moon, circulation of blood, stages of mitosis, and photosynthesis, a Direct-causal Schema is adequate for correct understanding. However, for science processes that are non-sequential (or emergent), such as diffusion, natural selection, osmosis, and heat flow, using a Direct Schema to understand these processes will lead to robust misconceptions. Instead, a different type of general schema may be required to interpret non-sequential processes, which we refer to as an Emergent-causal Schema. We propose that students lack this Emergent Schema and teaching it to them may help them learn and understand emergent kinds of science processes such as diffusion. Our study found that directly teaching students this Emergent Schema led to increased learning of the process of diffusion. This article presents a fine-grained characterization of each type of Schema, our instructional intervention, the successes we have achieved, and the lessons we have learned.

AB - Studies exploring how students learn and understand science processes such as diffusion and natural selection typically find that students provide misconceived explanations of how the patterns of such processes arise (such as why giraffes' necks get longer over generations, or how ink dropped into water appears to "flow"). Instead of explaining the patterns of these processes as emerging from the collective interactions of all the agents (e.g., both the water and the ink molecules), students often explain the pattern as being caused by controlling agents with intentional goals, as well as express a variety of many other misconceived notions. In this article, we provide a hypothesis for what constitutes a misconceived explanation; why misconceived explanations are so prevalent, robust, and resistant to instruction; and offer one approach of how they may be overcome. In particular, we hypothesize that students misunderstand many science processes because they rely on a generalized version of narrative schemas and scripts (referred to here as a Direct-causal Schema) to interpret them. For science processes that are sequential and stage-like, such as cycles of moon, circulation of blood, stages of mitosis, and photosynthesis, a Direct-causal Schema is adequate for correct understanding. However, for science processes that are non-sequential (or emergent), such as diffusion, natural selection, osmosis, and heat flow, using a Direct Schema to understand these processes will lead to robust misconceptions. Instead, a different type of general schema may be required to interpret non-sequential processes, which we refer to as an Emergent-causal Schema. We propose that students lack this Emergent Schema and teaching it to them may help them learn and understand emergent kinds of science processes such as diffusion. Our study found that directly teaching students this Emergent Schema led to increased learning of the process of diffusion. This article presents a fine-grained characterization of each type of Schema, our instructional intervention, the successes we have achieved, and the lessons we have learned.

KW - Causal explanations

KW - Diffusion

KW - Emergence

KW - Learning

KW - Misconceptions

KW - Science processes

KW - Simulations

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=84855804137&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=84855804137&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01207.x

DO - 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01207.x

M3 - Article

VL - 36

SP - 1

EP - 61

JO - Cognitive Science

JF - Cognitive Science

SN - 0364-0213

IS - 1

ER -