2014 GSA Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia (19–22 October 2014)

Paper No. 9-13
Presentation Time: 10:15 AM


VO, Tina, Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education, University of Nebraska, 3310 Holdrege Street, Lincoln, NE 68583, FORBES, Cory, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska, 523 Hardin Hall, 3310 Holdrege St, Lincoln, NE 68583 and SCHWARZ, Christina V., Department of Teacher Education, Michigan State University, 349 Erickson Hall, 620 Farm Lane, East Lansing, MI 48824

The Next Generation Science Standards highlight the importance of scientific modeling as one of eight scientific practices in which students should engage. While elementary students should learn to use models to reason about complex natural systems, research exploring elementary teachers’ ideas about scientific modeling, as well as their instructional practices to support early learners’ model-based reasoning, is limited. We engaged in a longitudinal study to develop an empirically driven learning performance framework and use it to shape instruction, curriculum, and assessment to support students’ learning about the water cycle. Results from this study focus on instruction and begin to shed light on how, why, and to what extent elementary teachers foster model-based science learning environments that engages early learner’s model-based reasoning about the water cycle.

Teachers must perceive the value of scientific models as abstracted representations of natural phenomena, and also as pliable reasoning tools that are used to interpret observations, formulate claims, and negotiate meaning. In our study, the teachers’ ideas about what models and modeling involved only focused on certain modeling practices (construct/revise, use, evaluate) and epistemic considerations (generality/abstraction, evidence, mechanism, audience). The teachers in this study showed growth over time; understanding modeling as a complex practice; engaging more deeply into what models are used for, including additional epistemic considerations. Results from this study also suggest teachers’ classroom practices were consistent with their ideas about modeling and a greater emphasis on epistemic considerations resulted in a more student centered classroom.

This study provides insight to teacher educators and practitioners because it brings to light a disparity in how different teachers think about modeling and how these ideas affect their teaching practices. Teachers need further support and professional development in order to productively incorporate modeling practice into the classroom. Additional research around teachers’ conceptions and instructional practices will be critical to further enable elementary teachers in substantively engaging students in scientific modeling around disciplinary core ideas.