Conceptual and epistemic aspects of students' scientific explanations

  • Sandoval W
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Abstract

This article exploreshowstudents’ epistemological ideas about the nature of science in- teract with their conceptual understanding of a particular domain, as reflected in written explanations for an event of natural selection constructed by groups of high school stu- dents through a technology-supported curriculum about evolution. Analyses intended to disentangle conceptual and epistemic aspects of explanation reveal that groups sought plausible causal accounts of observed data, and were sensitive to the need for causal coherence, while articulating explanations consistent with the theory of natural selection. Groups often failed to explicitly cite data to support key claims, however, both because of difficulty in interpreting data and because they did not seem to see ex- plicit evidence as crucial to an explanation. These findings reveal that students have productive epistemic resources to bring to bear during inquiry, but highlight the need for an epistemic discourse around student-generated artifacts to deepen both the con- ceptual and epistemological understanding students may develop through inquiry.

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