Previous studies reported a learning progression that described the development of American students’ explanations of carbon-transforming processes. This study examined the validity of this learning progression for Chinese middle school students. The comparison of American and Chinese students’ performances showed both similarities and differences between the two groups. They shared similar general trends in their learning progressions from simple force-dynamic accounts to scientific model-based reasoning. Most students did not construct model-based explanations: (1) they did not trace matter and energy separately, and (2) they did not connect phenomena at the macroscopic scale to mechanisms at the cellular and atomic-molecular scale. There were some key differences. These differences might be due to culture, exam systems, or other aspects of science education in these two countries. Implications for improving science education in each country are discussed.
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