Dimensions of Adolescents' Reasoning about Political and Historical Issues: Ontological Switches, Developmental Processes, and Situated Learning
Judith Torney-Purta University of Maryland
Even with the recent explosion of research on reasoning, two important questions concerning adolescents' thinking about political and social issues remain: (a) What is conceptual change in the social and political domain of knowledge dealing with contemporary political events and with historical events? and (b) What is important about developmental processes as they intersect with instructional processes to influence conceptual change in this domain?
Conceptual change is a familiar topic for research in the sciences ( Vosniadou & Brewer, 1987), but much less so in the social sciences and history. Although there is research on instructional processes and speculation about developmental stages in understanding history, there is little work within this domain that attempts to differentiate conceptual change associated with instruction from conceptual change associated with development.
These questions are explored with data from think-aloud problem solving, concept mapping, and related techniques dealing with historical and contemporary political issues. The samples come from research conducted on 14- to 17-year-old participants in a computer-assisted international simulation (Project ICONS) and a study using concept mapping of topics related to the Holocaust conducted with 12- to 14-year-olds participating in an educational program in their classroom and a museum exhibit. Both are highly involving instructional experiences in which adolescents are prompted to grapple with social and historical issues in a context of peer group discussion.