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ERIC Number: ED528963
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 8
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 7
The Effect of Scaffolded Causal Identification in the Transfer of Experimental Design Skills
Siler, Stephanie A.; Klahr, David; Willows, Kevin; Magaro, Cressida
Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness
A central goal of instruction is to enable learners to transfer acquired knowledge to appropriate future situations. One factor that likely promotes far transfer is conceptual coherence (cf. Murphy & Medin, 1985). For elementary and middle-school school children in middle-high-SES schools, "explicit" instruction on the Control of Variables Strategy (CVS) that emphasizes understanding of the rationale behind CVS has proven to be effective at promoting transfer to different contexts, even after extended time delays (e.g., Strand-Cary & Klahr, 2008; Klahr & Nigam, 2004; Chen & Klahr, 1999). An understanding of this rationale may increase conceptual coherence by providing linkage between the procedural rules of CVS (i.e., by explaining why only the focal variable should be contrasted). However, when the same instruction was delivered to students in low-SES schools, near--but especially far--transfer rates were much lower (e.g., Klahr & Li, 2005). The authors hypothesized that the poorer performance on far transfer assessments was primarily due to students' failure to develop a generalized understanding of the rationale for controlling variables, resulting in weakly-integrated procedural knowledge. The purpose of the study was to see whether the addition of more focused questions in computerized instruction would improve far transfer performance of low-SES students. These additional questions prompted students to consider whether the causality of a variable could be determined from various experimental set-ups and thereby an understanding of the rationale for controlling other variables. In addition, the authors compared learning and transfer outcomes of these two versions of computerized instruction to what they considered to be an instructionally good control lesson. The focus of this control lesson was also on the rationale for controlling variables. However, the overall percent of time devoted to considering the rationale for controlling variables was less in this control lesson than in the computerized instruction. Research was conducted at a local Pittsburgh science and technology magnet school serving students in grades six through nine. Thirty-three students in two sixth-grade science classes participated and completed all parts of the intervention and assessments (19 completed the computerized TED instruction, and 14 completed the Control lesson, a teacher-delivered hand-on curricular lesson, from the textbook "Foundations of Physical Science" published by the Cambridge Physics Outlet and approved by the Pittsburgh Public School District). The results of this study are consistent with the hypothesis that understanding the rationale for controlling variables in CVS increases the likelihood that students will remember and apply it in novel domains. And the benefit of emphasizing this rationale seems to be greatest for students who initially had the least knowledge of CVS (i.e., did not demonstrate understanding of any aspects of CVS). Thus, the benefit of conceptual coherence may be greater when students do not have anchoring knowledge in long-term memory. However, students with more initial knowledge may benefit more from the baseline form of instruction. It is possible that the baseline and CPO control instruction requires more effort to understand, leading to better retention (cf. Slamenka & Graf, 1978). However, due to the small sample size used in this study, these results need to be replicated. Planning of a replication study is underway (and should be completed in time for the conference). References and tables are appended. (Contains 1 table and 1 figure.)
Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness. 2040 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208. Tel: 202-495-0920; Fax: 202-640-4401; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: Grade 6; Junior High Schools; Middle Schools
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (SREE)
Identifiers - Location: Pennsylvania