Using physical models to build Earth Science students' competency around the science practice of modeling

Wednesday 3:30pm REC Center Medium Ice Overlook Room


Kim Kastens, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ann Rivet, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Alison Riley Miller, Bowdoin College
Cheryl Lyons, Bowdoin College
We have been researching how students learn and teachers teach using physical models in Earth Science. Physical models are widely used, in part because so many important Earth phenomena are too big, to slow, or too far away for students to experience in lab or on field trips. We have classroom observations of lessons using physical models, pre- and post-instruction written assessments, and interviews of students reflecting on how they reasoned while completing key assessment items. The data span two years, one before and one after a summer professional development workshop, and three topics, phases of the moon, causes of the seasons, and sedimentary deposition with grain-size sorting. Our focus is on how well students can map correspondences and non-correspondences between an aspect of the model and the analogous aspect of the real Earth System.

Our findings are compatible with a three level construct for model-Earth analog mapping proficiency. The easiest level comprises analogy of objects (e.g. basketball represents Earth) and their attributes (e.g. flashlight and Sun are both light-emitting). The medium level comprises analogies of motion (e.g. lacrosse ball goes around basketball as moon goes around Earth) and configuration (e.g. largest beads are on the bottom of the settling tube as largest sediment grains are at the bottom of the sedimentary layer.) The most difficult level comprises analogy of mechanism and process. At all levels of the construct, students find it more difficult to articulate non-correspondences than correspondences. Students competency improved through instruction. Teacher use of active learning strategies and student learning gains both increased after a teacher professional development program that stressed three strategies: explicit discussion of model-earth correspondences and non-correspondences, having students use the model to solve problems, and having students use the model in interpreting data.

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