Crosscutting Concept 2: Cause and Effect

Most scientific investigations are conducted to answer questions that explore cause-and-effect relationships, such as “Why did that happen?” “How did that happen?” or “What mechanisms caused that to happen?” Therefore, the application of science is dependent on understanding the cause-and-effect relationships between events. This often requires one to articulate the mechanism mediating the relationship between two components of investigation in a system or in a particular phenomenon. Research shows that it is human beings’ innate nature to explore the causal relationships between events (Ofer & Durban, 1999). Students at a very young age tend to develop some causal explanations to make meaning of the world, although their explanations often concern the superficial features of events. It may be simple to identify patterns in which events occur together, and such patterns might represent real cause-and-effect relationships, but proving such relationships or elucidating the details of the relationship requires more investigation. Current reform-based efforts in K-12 science education expect students to apply accepted scientific theories in order to account for the causal mechanisms at play in a particular natural phenomenon (such as watching a ball drop to the ground or the inadequate growth of a plant deprived of water). Students are also expected to construct arguments based on evidence to support the mechanisms that are at play to mediate the cause-and-effect relationships being studied.
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