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Constructing Explanations

Living in the Pacific Northwest means that every few years the local media will focus on the possibility of “The Big One”. Oregon and Washington are smack dab in the middle of the Cascadia Subduction Zone. In 1700, there was a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and there hasn’t been another one since. Scientists point to the geologic record and estimate that there is a 40% chance of a similar earthquake in the next 50 years. It is important that students understand the different factors at play at a convergent boundary both for their general science knowledge, but also to avoid a bit of hysteria when the media cycles around to their doomsday predictions in their need to sell papers/airtime.

Students often have a number of misconceptions regarding plate movement and earthquakes. With Inq-ITS virtual labs, students have the opportunity to confront their misconceptions and develop a concrete understanding of various phenomena. We know that when students write about their learning they are better able to retain and recall the information. Asking students to construct an explanation for a phenomena helps to solidify the new concepts they’ve learned.

As educators, we are looking for a claim that references the correct independent variable, the correct dependent variable, and how the independent and dependent variables changed.

By giving our students the opportunity to reflect upon and improve their original hypothesis we help them to overcome their misconceptions and to embrace the idea that our understanding of phenomena should change as new evidence becomes available. With Inq-ITS, students can embark on this process 3-4 times in one class period so they have the practice necessary in order to improve their ability to construct explanations.


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