Investigating how children investigate (EST, PSY, ILO; Ba/Ma)


Ard Lazonder


Children in elementary school periodically engage in simple investigations in order to learn about materials or natural phenomena such as light, sound, electricity, force, and temperature. Learning through experimentation is both motivating and challenging: children like to perform hands-on experiments, but generally lack the skills to infer new knowledge from their own investigations. To illustrate, most children fail to engage in systematic experimentation, only perform experiments that confirm their initial beliefs, ignore inconsistent findings, and are often incapable of separating their own ideas from the results of their investigations (Zimmerman, 2007). What would be the reasons behind these problems? Do young children simply lack the skills and experience to learn from their own investigations? Do they hold incorrect beliefs about the goals of experimentation? Or do they lack knowledge of the topics they are investigating? Or…? And perhaps more importantly, how could instructional support help prevent these problems?


From a review of the literature you select one of the above problems and propose a potentially effective type of support. Examples include teacher explanations of how to design good experiments, small group discussions on how results should be interpreted, offering ready-made hypotheses, and so on. The effectiveness of this intervention is then validated in an experimental study in which children from upper elementary education (aged 10-12) experiment with a computer simulation. One part of the sample will receive additional support, the other half will not. Learning processes and learning outcomes are recorded through interviews and in computer logfiles, and are compared between the two groups to determine whether and how the additional support proved effective.


Chinn, C. A., & Malhotra, B. B. A. (2002a). Children’s responses to anomalous scientific data: How is conceptual change impeded? Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 327-343.

Klahr D., & Li, J. (2005). Cognitive research and elementary science instruction: From the laboratory, to the classroom, and back. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 14, 217-238.

Penner, D. E., & Klahr, D. (1996). The interaction of domain-specific knowledge and domain-general discovery strategies: A study with sinking objects. Child Development, 67, 2709-2727.

Zimmerman, C. (2007). The development of scientific thinking skills in elementary and middle school. Developmental Review, 27, 172-223.


Scientific reasoning, inquiry learning, discovery learning, instructional support, scaffolding