Students’ Reasoning Processes While Constructing Causal Diagrams


  • Marjolein COX, Jan ELEN, An STEEGEN KU Leuven, Leuven, BELGIUM


Cognitive Strategies; Reasoning Process; Causal Diagrams; Secondary Education; Systems Thinking; Geography Education; Think-aloud Interviews, Causality


The use of causal diagrams to externalize the mental representation of a problem is recognized to be an important step in solving complex problems. In geography education several global challenges taught about in class are highly complex due to the interconnectedness of many causes and consequences. A systems thinking approach might be helpful to better understand these global challenges. Former studies have shown the effectiveness of concept maps and causal diagrams to foster students’ systems thinking. However, it is not always obvious for students to construct proper causal diagrams. In order to optimize teaching strategies concerning these complex systems in geography education, this study analyzes students’ cognitive strategies while constructing a causal diagram. We used task-based think[1]aloud interviews to study their cognitive strategies. Four different cognitive strategies were observed. The different types of cognitive strategies all resulted in an acceptable constructed causal diagram by the students. The presented insights are explorative, but it reveals the thinking processes that are mostly tacit and therefore has the potential to contribute to better teaching strategies. After all, if we know what processes novices go through while carrying out a complex skill, which are often taken for granted by experts, in this case geography teachers, we can raise awareness among teachers to explicitly take those processes into account while designing lessons.