Variability is defined as the number of different ways in which something is done. Adaptive variability reflects varying in correct ways; error variability, in incorrect ways. This study examined two sources of variability in children’s problem solving: age and reinforcement. First, third, and fifth graders at a suburban, public elementary school played a computer maze game with increasing variability requirements. Baseline variability levels were higher in fifth- than in first-graders. These differences disappeared when variability was required. Error scores increased with variability requirements, but were higher in first- than in third- or fifth-graders. Older students used more efficient strategies than younger ones. Students with high variability and low error scores shared response patterns and strategies, regardless of grade. Pedagogical implications of age and reinforcement effects are discussed.

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THE CURRENT STUDY

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