Why Teach with Model-Eliciting Activities?

Initial Publication Date: November 3, 2009

Geo 110 Students work on topographic maps
Model-eliciting activities (MEAs) have the potential to help students learn more deeply, retain what they learn, and transfer their learning to other problem contexts. The research background on the effectiveness of MEAs is built on three areas: research on [1] the use of MEAs, [2] invention-to-learn activities, and [3] the role of prior knowledge. Each of these research areas is now described.

Model-Eliciting Activities: General Research

Lesh, Hoover, Hole, Kelly, and Post (2000) have found that model-eliciting activities can be designed so that they lead to significant forms of learning. Other researchers have also found dramatic and positive results using model-eliciting activities in both mathematics and engineering education (e.g., Moore, Diefes-Dux, & Imbrie, 2007, 2006; Diefes-Dux, Imbrie, & Moore, 2005). Problem-based learning has also generally shown positive educational and affective results (e.g., Albanese & Mitchell, 1993; Kaufman et al, 1989; Williams, 2001), and although MEAs and problem-based learning have some differences these two instructional approaches have many more similarities (e.g., realistic problems, constructed-response tasks, self-assessment, group work, etc.) (See Chamberlin and Moon (2008) for a more thorough comparison of MEAs and problem-based learning).


Model-eliciting activities are designed to make students invent methods and models to solve an open-ended problem. Schwartz and Martin (2004) have found that activities that promote invention of new methods and models promote development of mental frameworks for connecting information and are also effective at preparing students to learn canonical solutions used in the discipline. Research has also suggested that instructional models that promote student invention not only help students' evolve their intuitions, but also show improved retention and transfer (Schwartz & Martin, 2004; Schwatrz, Varma & Martin, 2008).

The Role of Prior Knowledge

Cognitive researchers have found that students' prior knowledge and intuitions often conflict with new learning (Bransford et al., 2000). Research suggests the need for learning activities that help students work through inconsistencies in their prior knowledge and intuitions while at the same time building the scaffolding for future learning (e.g., Schwartz, Sears & Chang, 2007). Model-eliciting activities are designed explicitly to reveal and test students' intuitions and prior knowledge while at the same time providing for extension, revision, and integration of these ideas to develop a foundation for more abstract, or formal ways of understanding (Lesh et al., 2000).