Post-secondary Science Students’ Explanations of Randomness and Variation and Implications for Science Learning

Rebekka Darner Gougis, Janet F. Stomberg, Alicia T. O’Hare, Catherine M. O’Reilly, Nicholas E. Bader, Thomas Meixner, Cayelan C. Carey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The concepts of randomness and variation are pervasive in science. The purpose of this study was to document how post-secondary life science students explain randomness and variation, infer relationships between their explanations, and ability to describe and identify appropriate and inappropriate variation, and determine if students can identify sources of variation. An instrument designed to test statistical concepts was administered to 282 college students from three universities, ranging from introductory non-science majors to science graduate students. Students readily distinguished between causes of variation. A naïve no-pattern concept of randomness persisted from first-year non-science majors to senior-level science majors, contributing to incorrect responses on the variation instrument. Students’ expressions of randomness were better predictors of performance on the variation instrument than their expressions of variation. It is argued that inclusion of everyday language uses of randomness in instruction can bridge the gap between vernacular and scientific uses of this term.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1039-1056
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Science and Mathematics Education
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017


  • Conceptual development
  • Language use in science
  • Nature of science
  • Randomness
  • Variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Mathematics(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Post-secondary Science Students’ Explanations of Randomness and Variation and Implications for Science Learning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this