Citekey: @hakkarainen2004a

Hakkarainen, K. (2004). Pursuit of explanation within a computer-supported classroom. International Journal of Science Education, 26(8), 979–996. doi:10.1080/1468181032000354


The purpose of the study is to analyse whether elementary school children, collaborating within a computer-supported classroom, may profitably participate in research-like processes of inquiry that characterize practices of scientific research. The problem addressed in the study is whether 10-year-old and 11-year-old children, in appropriate circumstances, engage in working with knowledge at a deep level of explanation instead of processing only factual and descriptive knowledge. (p. 2)

I use the concept of ‘progressive inquiry’ to refer to the sustained processes of advancing and building of knowledge characteristic of scientific inquiry (Hakkarainen 1998, Hakkarainen and Sintonen 2002). (p. 2)

The problem addressed in the present study is whether CSILE students are profitably able to profitably engage, even in a rudimentary form, in an explanationdriven process of inquiry. (p. 4)

The study material represents productions of 28 Grade 5/Grade 6 students over an academic year at an inner-city public school in Toronto, Canada. (p. 4)

Method (p. 4)

The study was a part of pedagogical design experiment that focuses on putting ideas generated by the students themselves into the foci of education (Scardamalia 1999). Accordingly, it focuses on analysing the students’ externalized conceptions posted to CSILE’s database. (p. 4)

CSILE students’ productions (research questions, intuitive and scientific explanations, written comments) were analysed at multiple levels using qualitative content analysis (see Chi 1997). The participants’ postings to CSILE’s database were partitioned into ideas—corresponding elements of progressive inquiry, such as questions, working theories, (authoritative) scientific information—in order to increase reliability of classification. (p. 6)

Further, the epistemological nature of the students’ research questions was analysed by classifying each research question according to whether it was fact-seeking or explanation-seeking in nature. (p. 6)

The students produced a series of written comments that were analysed according to the object of comment; that is, what aspect of inquiry (problem, method, information, explanation, or other) the comment was about. (p. 6)

Qualitative classification of CSILE students’ explanations (p. 6)

The nature of intuitive explanation (p. 9)

CSILE students produced a large number of intuitive working theories in their study projects. (p. 9)

Results (p. 9)

Most of the students went beyond their initial functional explanations and moved towards physical explanations in the course of their inquiry, regardless of the projects. (p. 11)

During their process of inquiry many CSILE students found explanatory scientific information in the Force, Cosmology, and Electricity projects as indicated by the degree of deepening explanation (table 3). These distributions provide a conservative estimate of deepening of CSILE students’ explanations because they were based on evaluation of individual students’ explanations. (p. 11)

CSILE students’ conceptual advancement (p. 11)

About 35% (f = 258) out of the questions were given by the teacher to pre-structure students’ inquiry, while the (p. 12)

Sources of conceptual advancement (p. 12)

It was noticed that, within each topic, the students answered their principal questions (e.g. what is gravity?) by generating a series of subordinate questions. (p. 13)

Finally, CSILE students’ peer interaction appeared to contribute significantly to their conceptual advancement. (p. 13)

Analyses reported elsewhere revealed that CSILE students’ written comments in general, and requests of explication of explanation embedded in these comments, were associated with their conceptual advancement (Hakkarainen 1998). (p. 13)

Furthermore, comparisons between intuitive and scientific theories appeared to be an important source of the conceptual advancement for students. (p. 13)

others (65%, f = 478) were generated by the students themselves. (p. 13)

The analysis indicated that the students genuinely engaged in inquiry demonstrating an impressive degree of epistemic agency (Scardamalia 2002). They systematically generated their own intuitive theories and searched for explanatory scientific information to answer their research questions. Thus, the results furnished evidence, within specific topic areas, that children in appropriate conditions are indeed able to go beyond the surface-level phenomena through generating explanations. (p. 15)

In the course of the study projects, however, some of the participating students went beyond their intuitive conceptions and adopted very advanced scientific explanations, provided that an understandable scientific explanation was available. Although a number of students were able to overcome the functional and empirical approaches in their intuitive conceptions, only a few students were able to arrive at well-articulated theoretical-physical explanations of the problems being investigated. (p. 16)

The results of the present study indicate that science educators may achieve good results from guiding their students to work systematically to develop their own (p. 17)

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