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Special Talk – “Learning by Explaining Complex Systems” – Lauren Barth-Cohen

February 25th, 2013

The RiSE Center
and the
University of Maine


Lauren Barth-Cohen, Ph.D.
University of California, Berkeley
Post-Doctoral Associate candidate

“Learning by Explaining Complex Systems”

In this talk I present work that focuses on students’ competencies in generating scientific explanations within the domain of complex systems, an interdisciplinary area in which students tend to have difficulties. During open-ended clinical interviews students were asked to reason about a variety of phenomena whose behavior is associated with complex systems. I focus on a case of a students’ shifting explanations as they become less prototypically centralized (a more naïve causality) and then become more prototypically decentralized over short time periods while explaining the movement of sand dunes. The analysis reveals how change can occur during the process of students generating a progression of increasingly sophisticated transitional explanations. This is important because it reveals that this shift may not be as difficult as some have presumed and will serve as a foundation for future work to build an instructional sequence on complex systems.


Lauren Barth-Cohen earned a Ph.D. from the Graduate Group in Science and Mathematics Education (SESAME) at the University of California, Berkeley in December 2012 and a BA in physics from Smith College in 2005. She is currently a visiting scholar in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley. Her research interests include learning, conceptual change, scientific explanations, physics education, and video-analysis. In her dissertation she studied students’ learning, in the context of students’ generating scientific explanations about complex systems.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013
12:00-1:30 pm
Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium

Light lunch provided at 12:00 pm
Talk starts at 12:30 pm

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