This paper is part of an investigation into 11-year-old students' interpretations of events in the environment. In particular, we analyse the use of a scale model constructed and manipulated by students when simulating a forest fire. We consider that their explanations involve the interrelation of three levels of organisation: the level at which the phenomenon is observed, a lower level at which causal mechanisms are identified, and a higher level in which environmental constraints are identified. The data consisted of recordings of conversations in class and the students' explanations themselves. These were analysed under three headings: 1. The organisational level of the explanation; 2. The source of the evidence (original observations, the scale model, previous experiences or authorities); and 3. Who promotes the explanation (teacher, student or in interaction). The results show a spiral process of explanation construction. The use of the scale model encourages the inclusion of constraints in the explanations, while mechanisms are mostly introduced when resorting to previous experiences and observations. Scientific language is used mostly regarding mechanisms, and the integration of levels is encouraged by questions posed by the teacher.
- Levels of observation
- Managed classroom conversation
- Scale model
- Science explanation