Understanding Emergent Phenomena with Functional Schema


Previous research has well-documented that naïve learners struggle when attempting to understand emergent phenomena. Misconceptions often arise as learners tend to apply patterns of cause-and-effect between entities to explain these emergent processes. We posited that comprehending emergence requires learners to construct a different conceptual model, namely a functional schema, emphasizing functional relationships among entities and their interactions that are central to how emergent phenomena arise. A promising strategy to promote generation of such functional schema is contrasting examples. This paper reported an intervention study with 86 middle school students examining the effect of contrasting scenarios in helping learners generate a functional-relationship-centered schema to understand global warming. Students’ correct and misconceived explanations in pretest-posttest protocols were analyzed. Results showed contrasting scenarios motivated learners to develop the critical functional schema, which led to their eventual understanding of the mechanism of global warming. Implications on schema construction on understanding emergent systems are discussed.

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