Children's mechanistic reasoning

Molly S. Bolger, Marta Kobiela, Paul J. Weinberg, Richard Lehrer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Reasoning about mechanisms is one of the hallmarks of disciplined inquiry in science and engineering, but comparatively little is known about its precursors and development. Children at grades 2 and 5 predicted and explained the motion of simple mechanical systems composed entirely of visible linkages (levers). Students' explanations of device behavior suggested four forms of knowledge: simple recognition of device components, noting of structural relations among components, construction of cause-effect rules derived by observation of regularities in device behavior, and identification of essential system components and interactions among components that accounted for cause-effect rules. Only a few children coordinated multiple essential components to constitute a mechanistic causal scheme. Mechanistic causal schemes, in turn, were associated with successful prediction of the output motion of a system. Device tracing via gesture and talk appeared to support this form of knowledge development, and hence may inform future instructional design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)170-206
Number of pages37
JournalCognition and Instruction
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • General Psychology


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