Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Environmental Education Research Group

Re-imagining futures in STEME

Modeling Chance Processes Assists Students’ Ecological Investigations

Professor Richard Lehrer (Professor Emeritus of Education, Vanderbilt University)

The work of ecologists includes differentiating between random and causal sources of variability in accounts of ecosystem functioning (Albert et al, 2010). We introduced this foundational aspect of professional practice to multiple classes of seventh grade students who were participating in citizen science inquiry about the effects of climate change on species abundance in local ecosystems, a marine intertidal zone and a terrestrial vernal pool.

During two, multi-month iterations of a design study, students invented and employed models of random processes to warrant claims about organisms found in these ecosystems. To illustrate how student thinking about ecosystem functioning and modeling chance became intertwined, three lines of student inquiry are described, each of which posed distinctive challenges to would-be modelers.

Evidence of student thinking as revealed by collective student talk during classroom conversations and by individual students during end-of-year interviews warrant the fruitfulness of engaging students in modeling chance to support reasoning about variability in ecosystems. Nevertheless, the intelligibility of this form of modeling to students was moderated by the extent to which chance was viewed as a plausible alternative explanation of variability observed during the conduct of their investigations.

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Richard Lehrer

PhotoRichard Lehrer is Professor Emeritus of Education at Vanderbilt University and a member of the US National Academy for Education. Working in concert with teachers, he designs and analyses the impacts on learning of classroom learning ecologies that induct students in signature epistemic practices in sciences, such as modeling, and in mathematics, such as defining and explaining why (proving). In collaboration with Leona Schauble he has also investigated how children’s science education could be productively centred about the invention and revision of models of natural systems. Contemporary research investigates how to incorporate teacher’s judgments about students’ ways of thinking about mathematics, generated as students participate in carefully crafted classroom learning ecologies, into innovative psychometric models that meld formative and summative estimates of learning. This effort, conducted with Mark Wilson, mines the potential of assessment for informing instruction and creates opportunities to transform the current climate of accountability assessment into one more responsive to teaching and learning.

Richard’s most recent book: Measuring and Visualizing Space in Elementary Mathematics Learning.

Posted Oct 31, 2023

10 November 2023, 1:00pm

Deakin Downtown and Online