Development of Mechanistic Reasoning and Multilevel Explanations of Ecology in Third Grade Using Agent-Based Models

Amanda Catherine Dickes, Pratim Sengupta, Amy Voss Farris, Satabdi Basu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


In this paper, we present a third-grade ecology learning environment that integrates two forms of modeling––embodied modeling and agent-based modeling (ABMs)––through the generation of mathematical representations that are common to both forms of modeling. The term “agent” in the context of ABMs indicates individual computational objects or actors that obey simple rules assigned or controlled by the user. It is the interactions between these agents that give rise to emergent, aggregate-level behaviors in complex systems. While several researchers have argued for the effectiveness of ABMs for learning about complex systems, the design of classroom activity systems using ABMs, especially for elementary students, has received relatively less attention. In this paper, we report on a 2-week long proof-of-concept study conducted in a third-grade classroom of 15 students in which students began with an embodied modeling activity of foraging behavior, followed with the generation of mathematical inscriptions based on their embodied actions, and finally, conducted further inquiry of interdependence in an ecosystem using two separate ABMs. Furthermore, we show that the lens of mechanistic reasoning can be productively used to identify the process of students’ conceptual development of interdependence in an ecosystem as they engage in the modeling activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)734-776
Number of pages43
JournalScience Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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