The primary goal of this study was to examine the science process skill of prediction using qualitative research methodology. The think-aloud interview, modeled after Ericsson and Simon (1984), let to the identification of 63 program exploration and prediction behaviors.

The performance of seven formal and seven concrete operational high-school biology students were videotaped during a three-phase learning sequence on water pollution. Subjects explored the effects of five independent variables on two dependent variables over time using a computer-simulation program. Predictions were made concerning the effect of the independent variables upon dependent variables through time. Subjects were identified according to initial knowledge of the subject matter and success at solving three selected prediction problems.

Successful predictors generally had high initial knowledge of the subject matter and were formal operational. Unsuccessful predictors generally had low initial knowledge and were concrete operational. High initial knowledge seemed to be more important to predictive success than stage of Piagetian cognitive development.

Successful prediction behaviors involved systematic manipulation of the independent variables, note taking, identification and use of appropriate independent-dependent variable relationships, high interest and motivation, and in general, higher-level thinking skills. Behaviors characteristic of unsuccessful predictors were nonsystematic manipulation of independent variables, lack of motivation and persistence, misconceptions, and the identification and use of inappropriate independent-dependent variable relationships.