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ERIC Number: EJ1060709
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015
Pages: 48
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 72
ISSN: ISSN-1050-8406
Patterns, Probabilities, and People: Making Sense of Quantitative Change in Complex Systems
Wilkerson-Jerde, Michelle Hoda; Wilensky, Uri J.
Journal of the Learning Sciences, v24 n2 p204-251 2015
The learning sciences community has made significant progress in understanding how people think and learn about complex systems. But less is known about how people make sense of the quantitative patterns and mathematical formalisms often used to study these systems. In this article, we make a case for attending to and supporting connections between the behavior of complex systems, and the quantitative and mathematical descriptions. We introduce a framework to examine how students connect the behavioral and quantitative aspects of complex systems and use it to analyze interviews with 11 high school students as they interacted with an agent-based simulation that produces simple exponential-like population growth. Although the students were comfortable describing many connections between the simulation's behavior and the quantitative patterns it generated, we found that they did not readily describe connections between individual behaviors and patterns of change. Case studies suggest that these missed connections led students who engaged in productive patterns of sense-making to nonetheless make errors interpreting quantitative patterns in the simulation. These difficulties could be resolved by drawing students' attention to the graph of quantitative change featured in the simulation environment and the underlying rules that generated it. We discuss implications for the design of learning environments, for the study of quantitative reasoning about complex systems, and for the role of mathematical reasoning in complex systems fluency.
Routledge. Available from: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 325 Chestnut Street Suite 800, Philadelphia, PA 19106. Tel: 800-354-1420; Fax: 215-625-2940; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: High Schools; Secondary Education; Grade 11; Grade 12
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: DRL-1020101