Supporting Student Conceptual Model Development of Complex Earth Systems Through the Use of Multiple Representations and Inquiry
Karen S. Sell, Bruce E. Herber, Carol L. Stuessy, Janie Schielack 2006 Journal of Geoscience Education v54 p396-407

Students organize scientific knowledge and reason about issues in the Earth sciences by manipulating
internally-constructed mental models and socially constructed, expressed, conceptual models. The Earth sciences, which focus on the study of complex, dynamic, Earth systems, may present unique cognitive difficulties to students in their development of authentic, accurate expressed conceptual models of these systems. This pilot study came about as we were seeking to construct inquiry modules to assist undergraduate students as they developed an understanding of eutrophication along the coastal margin, a good example of a complex, dynamic, environmental process. The modules we developed coupled the use of physical models and information technology (IT)-based multiple representations with an inquiry-based learning environment that allowed our students to develop and test their conceptual models based on available evidence and to solve authentic, complex, and ill-constrained problems. Our hypothesis was that the quality of students' conceptual models would predict their performance on inquiry modules, and that students'
prior knowledge (measured by number of previous
courses in geology) would mediate the strength of the relationship between students' model expression and their inquiry performance. Statistical results of this study indicated such a relationship existed only among students in the high prior knowledge group. In the light of our findings, we make recommendations for
pedagogical accommodations to improve all
undergraduates' abilities to understand complex,
dynamic, environmental systems, with a particular
emphasis on students who have lower levels of prior knowledge.

Subject: Geoscience
Resource Type: Pedagogic Resources, Journal Article
Research on Learning: Geoscience Expertise:Complex Systems, Cognitive Domain:Misconceptions/barriers to learning, How information is organized:Mental models