Using a mechanistic framework to characterise chemistry students' reasoning in written explanations
The central goal of this research study was to characterise the different types of reasoning manifested by high school chemistry students when building initial written explanations of a natural phenomenon. In particular, our study participants were asked to explain why a mixture of water and alcohol works as an antifreeze. Data collected in the form of written explanations were analysed using a mechanistic reasoning framework based on the characterisation of system components (e.g., entities, properties, activities, organisation) and paying attention to the causal models invoked by the participants in their explanations. Our analysis revealed that students at the same educational level construct a wide range of explanations for the same phenomenon that are indicative of different reasoning modes going from descriptive to relational to simple causal to emerging mechanistic. Although the explanations generated by students in our sample were not very sophisticated in terms of the causal models on which they relied, some participants were capable of generating mechanistic explanations using particulate models of matter. The framework for analysis introduced in this contribution can be of use to teachers and researchers in the characterisation of student reasoning.