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From the Implicit to the Explicit in MINT Learning

Background and aims

This research project is a part of the longitudinal Swiss MINT Study, which is being conducted by ETH Zurich under the direction of Prof. Dr Elsbeth Stern. In the context of this MINT Study, the participating Grade 6 students conducted physical experiments cooperatively, thereby constructing, adapting and adjusting physical notions. In this way, they were implicitly guided on the topics of ‘experimentation’ and ‘controlling variables’.


This project is examining how students – in particular, students with school difficulties – succeed at explicitly reproducing and applying contents that they have experienced implicitly through conducting experiments. To this purpose, the learners have to explicitly describe knowledge on the topic of ‘controlling variables’ that they gained implicitly through experimenting. The study focuses, first, on knowledge gain and the type of knowledge testing, and, second, on the transfer of implicit information to explicit knowledge. Teachers and special education teachers are to be made aware of how, on an individual basis, notions can be formed and concepts tested.


On the topic of ‘controlling variables’, we will administer written tests and conduct interviews. Since the students will work with visual materials and objects, different levels of abstraction should be included. A comparison between the oral and written testing will serve to check the extent to which the format of the testing can have an effect on the learners’ achievement and whether oral testing can better uncover the potential of weaker learners in particular.

Students that cannot form a concept of ‘controlling variables’ in regular instruction will work on the topic explicitly in a short teaching unit. A post-test will test the knowledge gain again in writing, orally, and in action and will be related to cognitive abilities such as reading competency, logical thinking and age.



Large differences in achievement were found for oral and written testing, whereby the participants did much better when they gave their answers orally. This was mainly the case for learners with below-average and average reading skills. Good reading achievement and high physics knowledge had a positive effect on understanding the topic of ‘controlling variables’. With written testing, 29% of the learners scored the maximum number of points, whereas with oral testing, 57% of the learners scored the maximum number of points. It can be assumed that 84% of the students grasped the concept of ‘controlling variables’ (minimum: correct answers on 4 out of 6 items). The remaining 16% worked on the learning contents explicitly in a short teaching unit. In the subsequent post-testing, 91% of the students understood the concept of ‘controlling variables’. Latent profile analysis showed that learners with low performance on cognition and reading tests and with solid physics knowledge made the greatest knowledge gains when supported by the subsequent short teaching unit. Learners with good performance on the cognition and reading tests but with less physics knowledge showed smaller improvements.

In summary, the study “From the implicit to the explicit in MINT learning” found that the testing format had a strong effect on learners’ performance. Further, students with learning difficulties benefitted greatly from working explicitly on the topic in teaching units, whereby previous knowledge had a supporting effect.





Project Management

Prof. Dr.  Nussbaumer

Leiterin Studienschwerpunkt Pädagogik für Schwerhörige und Gehörlose

Project team


Forschung und Entwicklung
Tel: +41 44 317 11 81

zfe[at] zfe