In partnership with the Society of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry, and Institute of Physics

Transferring the approach

The quick start guide identifies three possible structures for model-based inquiry lessons. Each of these is exemplified by one or more of the Practical Work for Learning lessons.

Structure 1


Key features

  • Students use their own ideas (mental models) to make a prediction about the outcome(s) of an experiment.
  • A consensus model is presented once students have collected data / made observations.
  • Students’ own models and the consensus model are critiqued in terms of their potential for predicting and explaining outcomes.

Exemplar lessons

Small group discussion

In the colour vision lesson, students work in small groups to make a prediction in the form of a map of colour vision for their field of view. They test their prediction and refine their model in light of the evidence. Finally they consider the relationship between their map of colour vision and the consensus model for the arrangement of cones in the retina.

In the iron wool lesson, students work in small groups to predict what will happen to the mass of iron wool when it burns. They watch a teacher demonstration which shows that the mass increases. This outcome is often very surprising for students whose experiences of burning usually result in a loss of mass. Students are supported in using the particle model and the equation for the reaction to explain the increase in mass.

Scaffolding learning

There is evidence that struggling with a problem before being told the solution may ‘prime’ students’ thinking, making them more receptive to the explanation of the problem, even if their own interpretations are not accurate (Schwartz and Bransford, 1998). As tools for reasoning, mental models are a product of science education which should be explicitly acknowledged. Constructing mental models and the new connections that they elicit (Kahneman and Tversky, 1982) is a role of scaffolding in inquiry learning.

How do I transfer this approach to new contexts?

This approach is not suitable for all kinds of science practical. To decide whether or not to use this approach, you should consider whether students can be expected to hold or develop their own mental model.

Some models require a developed capacity in abstract thinking in order to visualise, understand and explain them (Gilbert, 2004) and this raises issues about matching the age and ability of the target audience to model complexity. For example, from their own experience, students might have a useful (if incomplete) mental model about how an object will fall compared with a lighter object. They may not have a useful model for bonding that will support explanations of energy changes in chemical reactions.

Structure 2


Key features

  • A simple or incomplete model is presented first for students to use to predict experimental outcomes.
  • Activities are devised to make sure students engage deeply with the model.
  • The model is critiqued and refined to fit data from the experiment.

Examplar lesson

  • Using a 'pot model' to represent osmosis

Small group discussion

This lesson involves students collaborating to construct a pot model to represent osmosis between a plant cell and surrounding solution. The pot model is related to a 2-dimensional model, and these are used to predict outcomes of an experiment.

Simple models can help students to imagine what might be going on ‘beneath the observable surface’ as they manipulate variables and make observations in their experiments. This gives purpose to the manipulations and provides a perspective for thinking and talking about the observations (Solomon, 1999).

Scaffolding learning

When a simple model is provided that is within students’ current understanding, it can be refined through cognitive conflict. If the simple model does not provide a sufficient explanation for the data, a better model is needed. Cognitive conflict has been used in science education as a method to bring about cognitive shifts since the 1980s (Driver et al., 1985). Teachers can help to support the process where students refine their models, by highlighting the added explanatory or predictive power of the new model.

How do I transfer this approach to new contexts?

This approach is not suitable for all kinds of science practical. To decide whether to use this approach, you should consider whether students have previously been introduced to incomplete or naïve scientific models. For example, students have been taught about energy and electricity in primary and early secondary education. Their models will need to be refined further if students are to use them to explain the phenomena they will engage with in more advanced science lessons. Processes which appear in the curriculum at various stages and at varying levels of complexity provide other possible examples, such as photosynthesis.

Structure 3


Key features

  • Recalling a previously taught model and examining its limitations.
  • Developing a more advanced model.
  • Applying the more advanced model in different contexts.

Exemplar lesson

Small group discussion

In this lesson sequence, students discuss and evaluate collision theory as a model for rate of reaction and move towards a mathematical model, the rate equation, which enables quantitative predictions to be made. They determine the rate equation for the reaction of marble chips with hydrochloric acid, and analyse data to deduce the rate equation for other reactions.

Scaffolding learning

Teachers can scaffold the transition to use of refined models to predict and explain phenomena.

How do I transfer this approach to new contexts?

This approach is not suitable for all kinds of science practical. To decide whether to use this approach, you should consider whether the concept is one in which the consensus model presented to students is different at different stages of their learning. A model is good one if it helps to explain what you want to explain, but as students progress more complex models are often needed. By exploring the limitations of previous models, students will be able to see why the previous model is now insufficient and why a new model is needed.

For example, osmosis is normally taught by considering solutions separated by a partially permeable membrane. When osmosis between plant cells is introduced, a more sophisticated model must be introduced to take account of the osmotic pressure applied by the plant cell walls. Other examples include how understanding food chains precedes food webs, and how an overview of transfer of respiratory gases precedes the model of reactions inside a red blood cell leading to uptake and release of oxygen at the appropriate locations in the body.

 

Page last updated on 02 May 2013