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A short-term intervention improved children's insights into causal processes

Tolmie, A; Dündar-Coecke, S; (2019) A short-term intervention improved children's insights into causal processes. The Psychology of Education Review , 43 (2) Green open access

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Abstract

Understanding of causal mechanisms has largely been ignored in past work on science learning, with studies typically assessing multiple aspects of children’s knowledge or focusing on their explanations without differentiating between accounts of factors, variables and mechanisms. Recent evidence suggests that grasp of mechanisms is in fact a crucial predictor of children’s science achievement; and that spatial-temporal ability is a key driver of this grasp, helping children to envisage the transformations involved in the continuous causal processes they encounter in science lessons. The present research tested the impact of a short-term intervention designed to promote spatial-temporal thinking with regard to one such process, sinking. Children across Years one to three from a school in a disadvantaged area (5 to 8 year-olds, six classes, N=171) were taken through a three-stage classroom exercise: Making initial predictions and observations; engaging in an imaginative game to explore the interactions between objects and water; and then testing further predictions supported by the introduction of scientific terminology. These stages modelled on a scientific investigation, targeting five key steps: (1) perception; (2) representation; (3) analysis; (4) mental imagery; and (5) use of feedback. The exercise produced substantial improvements in children’s performance, regardless of age; better observation and more accurate prediction; more coordinated representations; greater incidence of imagery and mechanism-related analysis; better sensitivity to feedback and increased use of scientific terminology. The data suggest that the ability to utilise spatial-temporal elements in causal inference is highly malleable and that giving children space to think and talk imaginatively about mechanisms is central to their progress. At present, science lessons typically focus on the ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’, and do not actively support such thinking about causal processes.

Type: Article
Title: A short-term intervention improved children's insights into causal processes
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: https://shop.bps.org.uk/publications/publication-b...
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Psychology and Human Development
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10086857
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