Metacognitive Prompting Intervention - Science

Erin E. Peters
George Mason University
Author Profile


The model is build on the ideas that students who observe a model, try the thinking task on their own with support, then try another similar thinking task with fading support, will develop self-regulation of the thinking task and be able to compare their outcomes with the expectations of the scientific community.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



Secondary science students; pre-service science teachers; in-service science teachers

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The prompts are the targeted skills that are expected. Students need no prior knowledge other than how to effectively distinguish observation from inference.

How the activity is situated in the course

The prompts are woven throughout the entire course. It has been empirically shown that nature of science knowledge is difficult to develop on the short-term, so interventions are more effective if they are long term.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Accurate conception of the scientific enterprise - how scientific knowledge is constructed and validated.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Metacognition is developed throughout the units based on Zimmerman's (2000) model of the 4-phases of self-regulation: observation, emulation, self-control and self-regulation. Because the prompts are developmental, each nature of science aspect had four phases of prompts. The observation phase prompts give examples of how a scientist would address the aspect of the nature of science in the module and the rationale behind it. The observation phase prompts were placed after the first investigation of new phenomena in the module in order to give students an example of how a scientist would answer the question. Students were expected to read and understand the model from the observation phase while in their lab groups of three or four members. The emulation phase gives a checklist to the student about the aspects of nature of science that should be considered for the task. The emulation phase was placed after the second investigation of the new phenomena so that students could perform a similar task as the model in the observation phase given the support of the checklist. Students were expected to emulate the model task and check their work using the checklist while in their groups, and were expected to discuss their activities with their lab group. The self-control phase gives students a short checklist of major aspects of the nature of science as well as some simple questions about "thinking about their thinking." The self-control phase was placed after the investigations in the phenomena so that students could reflect on their choices and rationale in the investigation. Students were expected to answer the self-control phase in the lab group. The self-regulation phase gives students more advanced questions that ask students to check to see if their thinking is aligned with the nature of science aspect. The self-regulation phase was placed at the end of the module so that students could reflect on the combination of activities in the entire module.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students worked in groups of 4 - empirical work has shown that groups working with MPI-S rely on evidence to resolve differences in inferences, while students in comparison groups rely on peer pressure or teacher authority.

Description of the activity/assignment

The intervention, Metacogntive Prompting Intervention - Science (MPI-S), consists of checklists and questions organized into four developmental phases strategically placed into lesson plans. Each set of metacognitive prompts represent ideas from one of the seven aspects of the nature of science. Students 1) receive an exemplary model of the scientific thinking task needed in the inquiry, 2) attempt a similar scientific thinking task with support in the form of a checklist, 3) attempt a more difficult scientific thinking task with faded support and report their reasoning behind their decisions, and 4) independently accomplish the science thinking task while reflecting on its alignment with established ways of knowing in science.

Metacognitive components of the activity

The prompts are based on Zimmerman's cyclical theory of self-regulation: forethought, performance, and self reflection. Students begin a science task with forethought (prior knowledge from experiences), then perform the science task with a combination of science process skills and content knowledge, then self-reflect on the alignment of the outcome to an "expert" outcome. One pathway through the cycle develops more knowledge that is forethought in the next cycle of self-regulation. The prompts encourage students to reflect on their observations and conclusions in an inquiry activity and compare their results to the expectations of the scientific community.

Metacognitive goals for this activity:

Students are expected to compare their processes and outcomes during an inquiry activity to the ways of knowing in science. Are students aligned with the ways knowledge is constructed and validated in the scientific enterprise?

Assessing students' metacognition

Over the past three years, I have tested the prompts with an experimental design in 8th grade classes. Experimental groups significantly outperform comparison groups in content knowledge and in nature of science knowledge regardless of the years of experience of the teacher. Additionally, the prompts have shown promise in qualitative studies in encouraging pre-service teachers to design lesson plans with explicit nature of science teachable moments woven through the entire school year.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The effectiveness of the activity lies in the depth of detail the students produce in the inquiry activity and can also be measured using various Nature of Science instruments.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials