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Hui Jin, Li Zhan, Charles W. Anderson


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Title: Hui Jin, Li Zhan, Charles W. Anderson

Understanding of Carbon Cycling An Interview
Study in the US and China
  • Hui Jin, Li Zhan, Charles W. Anderson
  • Michigan State University
  • April, 2009

Research Questions
  • How do American and Chinese students account for
    events about global warming?
  • Under current school science teaching, can
    students progress towards the scientific
    reasoning about the environmental events?
  • As American students and Chinese students are
    from different social, cultural, and educational
    contexts, how are their ways of reasoning similar
    or different?

Theoretical Foundation
  • Explanations Reasoning
  • People rely on specific ways of causal reasoning
    to account for everyday events.
  • Scientific knowledge always reflects causal
    reasoning that is discipline-specific.
  • Two ways to construct reasoning
  • Interactions with the material world ?
  • Macroscopic cause-effect relationships
  • Hidden processes are isomorphic with the
    macroscopic patterns (Chi, 2005 diSessa, 1987
    Grotzer Bell, 1999 Pozo Crespo, 2005)
  • Interactions with the media and other people
    through discourses ?
  • Scientific reasoning -- A discourse of constraint
    (Feynman et al., 1989)
  • Intuitive ways of reasoning
  • Force-dynamics discourse (Pinker 2007 Talmy,
  • Living things have internal goals and
    capabilities (Keil, 1995 Leslie, 1994 Leslie,
  • Colloquial meaning of energy -- Energy is the
    power to make changes happen it is used up and
    always needs to be replenished.

Research Background and Research Goals
  • Research Background
  • Learning Progression (LP)
  • A learning progression is a sequence of
    successively more sophisticated ways of reasoning
    about a set of topics as students expand their
    experiences in and out of school over time
    (Smith, Wiser, Anderson, Krajcik, 2006)
  • The matter LP and energy LP developed in the
    previous studies of the Environmental Literature
    Research Project ? Initial carbon cycling LP
  • A gap in the previous studies written
    assessments did not uncover details of students
    intuitive accounts ? Interview study
  • Research Goals
  • To develop an interview protocol that effectively
    reveals students accounts about the focal
    environmental events.
  • To develop a carbon cycling LP that represents
    American and Chinese students specific ways of
    carbon cycling.

Research Focus - Six Focal Events of Global
  • Six focal events that contribute to global
  • Tree growth Baby girl growth Girl running
    Tree decaying Car running Flame burning
  • Investigate students explanations to the focal
    events to interpret the underlying reasoning

Scientific Reasoning about the Focal Events
  • Key chemical reactions at atomic-molecular scale
    ? Macroscopic Events
  • Photosynthesis generates
    organic carbon and harnesses energy
  • Digestion biosynthesis
    transform organic carbon-containing materials
  • and passing on energy
  • .
  • Oxidization (Combustion Cellular respiration)
    oxidize organic carbon and degrades energy
  • Events and processes are constrained by three
  • Matter conservation
  • Energy conservation
  • Energy degradation

Interview Protocol
Two set of Interview questions to uncover
students intuitive accounts
  • General Questions (Questions for students from
    all levels)
  • What does the tree need in order to grow?
  • How does each of the things you mentioned helps
    the tree to grow? What happens to it inside the
    tree? Does the tree use it for energy? How does
    that work?
  • The tree gets heavier as it grows. How does
    that happen?
  • Does the growing tree change the air? How does
    that happen?
  • Follow-up High-level Questions
  • If the increased weight comes from outside the
    tree, where does it come from? How do these
    things change into the trees body structure?
  • Does tree growth require energy? What are the
    energy sources for the tree?
  • Do you think the energy of sunlight will change
    its form when it goes into the trees body? How?
    Where does the tree store energy? In cells? In

Research Participants
  • US -- 31 secondary students 2 elementary
  • Seven 7th graders and seven 6th graders from two
    public schools in California
  • Six 9th graders from one rural high school in
    Michigan eleven 10th graders from the math and
    science center in Michigan
  • Two elementary students from one suburban school
    in Michigan
  • China -- 23 secondary students
  • Four 7th Graders, five 8th graders, and four 9th
    graders from two rural schools
  • Three 10th graders, four 11th graders, and 3 12th
    graders from an urban school.

Research Method
  • Step 1. Using combined matter LP and energy LP as
    the initial carbon cycling LP.
  • Step 2. Identify patterns of performance
    develop the LP
  • Iterative process Results of data analysis
    provide information for revising the LP and
    interview protocol.
  • 2. American and Chinese students responses
    reflected similar patterns in two aspects of
    performances--naming and explaining. Hence, we
    developed 12 exemplar worksheets to represent
    students characteristic naming or explaining
    performances in the six focal events. Each
    exemplar worksheet contains level
    description--the characteristic performances at
    each level--and representative responses selected
    from the interview data.

Research Method
  • Step 3. Coding
  • Data 56 interview transcripts
  • Each transcript is divided into six units of
    analysis. Each unit of analysis contains all the
    questions and responses about one focal event.
  • Use exemplar worksheets to code each unit of
  • This work generated two tables that represent the
    alignment of naming and performing performances
    for American and Chinese students.

Finding Performance Patterns
  • American and Chinese data indicate similar
    patterns in two aspects of performance--naming
    and explaining
  • Naming the performances of naming the relevant
    science statements, principles, concepts, and
  • I What will cause the dead tree to decay?
  • C4 Microbes and oxygen.
  • I How does this change happen?
  • C4 I dont know.
  • Explaining the performances of constructing
    qualitative explanations based on different ways
    of reasoning.
  • I How does the food you eat help you to move
    your little finger?
  • C3 Foods change into energy to move your finger.

(I - Investigator A - American student C -
Chinese student)
Final Carbon Cycling LP (Level 1)
  • Episodes
  • I How about water? What happens to the water
    inside the tree?
  • A1 It sucks into the roots and then it water
    goes up, so it can make the leaves and the
    branches grow.
  • I How does the tree use sunlight for energy?
  • A1 Im pretty sure with the leaves, the leaves
    attract the sunlight and its like food to them,
    so thats how they grow. And I think its the
    same with the tree.

Final Carbon Cycling LP (Level 2)
Hidden process Food changes into energy
oxygen powers body functions
  • Episodes
  • I You said that people need oxygen. How do
    peoples bodies use oxygen?
  • C1 People have lungs. Their biological
    activities require oxygen. Oxygen helps
    activities. Without oxygen, they feel tired and
    cannot do things. Oxygen goes to lungs and then
    bloods to facilitate the movement of blood.
  • I How does the food you eat help you to move
    your little finger?
  • C3 Foods change into energy to move your finger.

Final Carbon Cycling LP (Level 3)
Changes of Molecules and Energy forms Awareness
of conservation laws
  • Episodes
  • I Your dad drove you to Yang Zhou after you
    finished the final. When you arrived there, your
    dad found that most gasoline was gone. Where did
    the gasoline go?
  • C5 The gasoline changed into kinetic energy to
    move the car.
  • I Can you identify any of the substances or
    materials that are changing when a person loses
    weight? What are they?
  • A5 The fat or lipids are broken down because
    energy is breaking down these. The fat breaks
    down into energy.

Final Carbon Cycling LP (Level 4)
  • Episodes
  • I When candle is burning, heat is released.
    Where does the heat come from?
  • C7 The candle has chemical energy. When it is
    burning, the chemical energy transforms into heat
    and light energy.
  • I What changes when the tree decays?
  • A6 Carbon in the tree is been broken down into
    smaller and smaller molecules. It needs oxygen
    for cellular respiration. The tree energy goes
    into the organisms that decaying the tree. It
    then goes into the air. The products of cellular
    respiration go to the air.

  1. American and Chinese students explaining
    performances were very similar, with a majority
    of each group at level 2 -- relying primarily on
    hidden mechanism reasoning.

  • 2. Naming performances and explaining
    performances were aligned differently for
    American and Chinese students. Students in both
    groups showed more level 3 and 4 naming
    performances than explaining performances, but
    the difference was much larger for Chinese

To Do List
  • Interview more American and Chinese elementary
    students to develop the lower anchor.
  • Use written assessments to collect a larger
    sample of responses and examine students
    developmental patterns.
  • Conduct teaching experiment that enables the
    development of a LP that shows how students
    transition from lower level to the higher level.

Contact Us
  • Environmental Literacy Research Project
  • http//

Thank You!