Jackson and colleagues (2008) describe the benefits of modeling in the physical science classroom as described by their researching relating to teacher professional development in modeling curriculum. They describe benefits of modeling in addressing student misconceptions. They present a modeling curriculum that has a focus on student collaboration and presentation of data, and they provide evidence to support the effectiveness of this strategy.
In “What Kind of Explanation is a Model?” Lehrer and Shauble describe scientific modeling and the benefits of its use in the science classroom. They place models in opposition to not only traditional lecture, but also the prescriptive experimentation that is most common in the classroom. Using examples from elementary classrooms, they show how modeling can engage students in a variety of important cognitive tasks, enhancing student learning.
Lehrer, Shuable and Petrosino in Reconsidering the Role of Experiment in Science Education redefined the role of experimentation in the science classroom. They argue that the proper place for experimentation is within a model that students are interacting with. In the classroom, experimentation is typically a prescribed list of steps with specific outcomes in which success comes in accurately completing the steps. The methodology for experimentation should naturally arise with scaffolding from the teacher out of the questions being asked. The structure presented more closely resembles the practice of science than the experimentation without background that is typical of school.
I was quite struck by the negative discussion of experimentation in the article. In thinking about good, hands-on science education, the first image that comes to mind for me is always of students working on an experiment. As a student, I felt many times that the time spent in lab, while often fun, was not especially important for my learning. The prescriptive format, expected answers and lack of generalization of experiments render them meaningless to many students. While I recognized this as a common pattern in the experiments I went through in school, experiments were the primary way that I thought that I could engage and involve students in class material. The idea of experimentation fitting into modeling and modeling as a primary means of having students interact with their learning seems to resolve the conflicting thoughts that I have had about experiments in science class.
The recurring thought I have had while reading about modeling has been its application in a high school biology classroom. I cannot think of good models for many units that I will have to teach. I especially cannot imagine students trying to design their own models. This may be a lack of creativity on my end, but I believe that it would be incredibly difficult to use modeling to cover every subject, which seems to be the implications the authors of these papers desire. I would really appreciate others’ thoughts on this. When reading the anecdotes, I was so excited, but I just cannot seem to imagine how this would fit into a real secondary classroom.