Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 381–397

Supporting Scientific Experimentation and Reasoning in Young Elementary School Students



DOI: 10.1007/s10956-013-9470-8

Cite this article as:
Varma, K. J Sci Educ Technol (2014) 23: 381. doi:10.1007/s10956-013-9470-8


Researchers from multiple perspectives have shown that young students can engage in the scientific reasoning involved in science experimentation. However, there is little research on how well these young students learn in inquiry-based learning environments that focus on using scientific experimentation strategies to learn new scientific information. This work investigates young children’s science concept learning via inquiry-based instruction on the thermodynamics system in a developmentally appropriate, technology-supported learning environment. First- and third-grade students participate in three sets of guided experimentation activities that involve using handheld computers to measure change in temperature given different types of insulation materials. Findings from pre- and post-comparisons show that students at both grade levels are able to learn about the thermodynamics system through engaging in the guided experiment activities. The instruction groups outperformed the control groups on multiple measures of thermodynamics knowledge, and the older children outperform the younger children. Knowledge gains are discussed in the context of mental models of the thermodynamics system that include the individual concepts mentioned above and the relationships between them. This work suggests that young students can benefit from science instruction centered on experimentation activities. It shows the benefits of presenting complex scientific information authentic contexts and the importance of providing the necessary scaffolding for meaningful scientific inquiry and experimentation.


Guided experimentation Elementary school students Handheld computers

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013