Learning the Control of Variables Strategy in Higher and Lower Achieving Classrooms: Contributions of Explicit Instruction and Experimentation

Robert F. Lorch, Elizabeth P. Lorch, William J. Calderhead, Emily E. Dunlap, Emily C. Hodell, Benjamin Dunham Freer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations

Abstract

Students (n = 797) from 36 4th-grade classrooms were taught the control of variables strategy for designing experiments. In the instruct condition, classes were taught in an interactive lecture format. In the manipulate condition, students worked in groups to design and run experiments to determine the effects of four variables. In the both condition, classes received the interactive lecture and also designed and ran experiments. We assessed students' understanding using a written test of their ability to distinguish valid from invalid experimental comparisons. Performance on this test improved from the pretest to the immediate posttest in all conditions, and gains were maintained at a 5-month delay. For students from both higher and lower achieving schools, gains ordered as follows: both > instruct > manipulate. However, students from higher achieving schools showed greater gains in all conditions. Item analyses showed that the interactive lecture improved students' understanding of the need to control irrelevant variables, and experimentation improved students' understanding of the need to vary the focal variable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-101
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Volume102
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2010

Keywords

  • experimentation
  • explicit instruction
  • inquiry in science
  • scaling up
  • science education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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