Expert reasoning about ecosystems requires a focus on the dynamics of the system, including the inherent processes, change over time, and responses to disturbances. However, students often bring assumptions to thinking about ecosystems that may limit their developing expertise. Cognitive science research has shown that novices often reduce ongoing patterns and processes to events across diverse science concepts. A robust, event-based focus may exacerbate student difficulties with reasoning about ecosystems in terms of resilience and change over time. In this study, we investigated middle-school students' initial reasoning about ecosystem dynamics and analyzed promising shifts in their reasoning after they interacted with a virtual environment with features designed to support thinking about change over time. Some students adopted a domino narrative pattern—a sequential story about the events and processes. The findings suggest that educators should consider the possibility that novices will bring event-based framing to their ecosystems learning.
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Vol. 63 • No. 4