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Why Models are Advantageous to Learning Science

Gail D. Chittleborough1 and David F. Treagust2

1 Deakin University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia E-mail: gail.chittleborough

2 Science and Mathematics Education Centre, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia. E-mail: D.Treagust


Models are provided consistently in science classes to aid explain clinical concepts; but, students are often unaware of the function, limitations and purpose of the particular model being supplied. This study investigated Years 8-11 students" views on models in scientific research and also supplied these results to propose a frame to display exactly how models are affiliated in finding out. The results present that students" expertise of the function of models in finding out scientific research enhanced in later on qualities and also that many type of students were able to identify the function of clinical models from teaching models. The outcomes are supplied to identify the criteria students use to classify models and to assistance pedagogical viewpoints of utilizing models in teaching science.

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Keywords: Scientific models, Teaching models, Student learning, Student expertise.


Models provide representations of scientific ideas that have the right to make the ideas more understandable to learners (Huddle, White and Rogers, 2000). Modeling needs the user to make links between the design and the truth that is being modelled. This task consists of the assessment of the version itself and an review of just how the model maps to the scientific concepts represented. Previous research has indicated that students" appreciation of models is limited and naïve (Grosslight, Unger, Jay and also Smith, 1991). However, to understand also why models are helpful to learning scientific research, it is vital to look at just how models are used and also how students perceive the models. Using this background, the duty that models play in contributing to finding out can be investigated.


Students" ideas of models originate from their daily experiences that are usually linked through scale models and also computer system simulations. This study concentrated on clinical models; yet, students execute not always differentiate between clinical models, teaching models and models in general, and all meanings of models are had in our discussion. Models are regularly viewed as teaching tools that boost the visualization of abstract principles.

Students" and experts" knowledge of models

The considerable difference between students" understanding of models and that of professionals has highlighted the poor understanding that some students have actually of the design idea. Inadequacies incorporate the student concentrating on the surconfront functions of the model, students being unable to deliver from one version to an additional easily, and also not being able to recognize the features of a model (Kozma and also Russell, 1997). Research has actually presented that students have actually a naïve expertise of the role of models in science (Grosslight, Unger, Jay, and Smith, 1991). This result is not surpclimbing considering that also though models are provided generally, across varied fields, they are commonly provided without elaboration of their function, their symbolic nature, their constraints and also their toughness. The passive use of models leaves the student via the perception of models as descriptors, whereas the active usage of models can develop the perception of models as interpretive and predictive devices.

Tbelow are two aspects of models that deserve to be considered: 1) How the version is supplied as an explanatory tool of scientific principles, and 2) Appreciation of the role, objective and constraints of a design. The usage of models has being a descriptive or explanatory tool, making use of the design to test concepts, make predictions, and formulate hypotheses. Research right into the usage of chemical models has presented that the descriptive nature of models was much better understood by students than the predictive duty of models (Treagust, Chittlebounstable and Mamiala, 2004). Models can be offered to encourage students to analyse and also evaluate clinical concepts. However, making use of a version might not be enough to encertain that the students have actually an appreciation of their role, function and also constraints of models. When utilizing model-based reasoning, students" have to have actually a good knowledge of the model itself, and also be familiar via the relationships in between the model and also the targain.

The duty of models

For students to understand also the function, objective and also constraints of models, it is vital for them to have actually a notion of the duty of models. Models are valuable tools in discovering scientific research which deserve to be offered to enhance explanations, geneprice discussion, make predictions, provide visual depictions of abstract principles and also generate psychological models (Treagust, Chittleborough and also Mamiala, 2003). Consequently, models have the right to play a far-reaching epistemological and pedagogical role by providing learning opportunities. To enhance these elements, Gilbert (1997) has actually recommended a more authentic therapy of the procedure of science through teachers being educated to usage and existing models in a more scientific means. As students use models discerningly, appreciating their duty, function and limitations, links are developed in between the model and the targain, and each learner constructs an individual psychological model for the idea.

Classifying models

Group schemes of models are useful because they provide students through a structure through which to highlight and also understand the function, function and also restrictions of certain models. These schemes have the right to lead students to build methods of reasoning around new models, ideas and theories. The widespread method of classifying models is according to their type, develop and also technique of usage (Gilbert and Osborne, 1980; Grosslight, Unger, Jay and Smith, 1991). Gilbert (2004) described 4 different categories of models: a agreement model—an welcomed design, tested by researchers and socially agreed upon; a teaching model—a model provided to aid define something; an expressed model—the personal expression of the students understanding of the sensations in speech, actions or writing; and also a psychological model—the personal internal expertise of the sensations.

An awareness of the features of a version is important in appreciating the function, function and constraints of a model: firstly by enabling learners to recognise the staminas and restrictions of the particular design, secondly as a method of classifying the model, and thirdly in recognising the level of depiction at which the model is presented. Without realising, we classify and kind whatever we enrespond to making use of our very own personal criteria and also placing it in our mental frame. The usage of classification keys, categoincreasing criteria, and also sorting methods offers students through approaches of sorting information that might extfinish their current frame or call for a new frame to be embraced.

Mental models and models

Mental models deserve to reexisting discourse around real, hypothetical, or imaginary situations (Johnson-Laird, 2001). It is a home window into the learners" expertise and can be offered by the learner to provide explacountries, make predictions and also provide thinking. The personalised mental version of a learner is described by Nmuzic-ivan.infouy, (1983) as hazy, incomplete and messy, by Brewer (1999) as ambiguous.

Models assist learners to generate personal mental models. The development of learners" psychological models occurs as learners use models, make predictions, acquire feedback and also modify their knowledge (psychological model) as necessary. This reflective and also recursive finding out style is dependent on the learner being tested to make predictions and applications, but deserve to be rewarded via a more systematic and deeper knowledge. The structure presented in Figure 1 from Chittleborough, Treagust, Mamiala and Mocerino (2005) is based upon the study literary works and diagrammatically presents the duty of the 4 kinds of models in discovering.


The aim of the study

The aim of the examine is to understand why models are handy tools in learning by investigating: 1) How do students" perceive models in respect of their discovering science?, and also 2) What are the criteria that students use to classify models? The first research question gives the foundation for the second study question. These information are reported in even more detail in Chittlebostormy et al. (2005).


This examine surveyed students about their basic views on models to acquire a more specific assessment of their perceptions. The instrument My Views of Models in Science (VOMMS) (see Appendix) was supplied to understand students" principles about models. Responses were obtained from 210 students from 3 different schools and across 4 Year levels, 8, 9, 10 and 11. All institutions were coeducational, with two being state high institutions and one being a private college. The Year 8, 9 and 10 students were researching general scientific research and the Year 11 students had favored to examine chemisattempt. The students sampled had actually no certain teaching about models; however, the chemisattempt students had supplied chemical models in their classes.

The 6 items in the VOMMS instrument developed from Aikenhead and Ryan"s (1992) Views of Science-Technology-Society item financial institution of concerns. Each item forced students to select in between two different statements around clinical models, therefore forcing them to take a definitive stance in response to the question. For instance, provided the statement in item 1, "Models and modelling in scientific research are essential in expertise science", students were asked to choose whether models are depictions of concepts or just how things job-related, or are specific duplicates of truth. The Year 11 students were also required to carry out a factor for their option. Statistical distinctions using SPSS were investigated with respect to gender, age and also college. ANOVA tests were performed on all items in the survey to recognize any type of differences in between different Year levels; t-tests were supplied to determine any kind of sex distinctions. The VOMMS instrument has actually a Cronbach alpha relicapability of 0.83 indicating that the outcomes of the items are continual throughout the instrument.

Results and Discussion

Students" perceptions of the function of models in science

In response to Research Question 1 — How perform students" perceive models in respect of their learning science? — the students" perceptions of models were measured based on the percentage responses to the VOMMS instrument. The responses proved that a bulk of students (>70%) check out models as a depiction of principles or just how things work-related (item 1); that tright here could be many type of various other models to describe principles (item 2); that models are provided to describe scientific sensations (item 3); that a model is based upon the facts that support the concept (item 4); that a design is accepted as soon as it deserve to be used effectively to define outcomes (item 5); and also that a model may adjust in future years (item 6).

An independent t-test perdeveloped on the six items uncovered that only item 5 was statistically substantially different (p

Three distinguishable conceptions around models

Tbelow are 3 distinguishable conceptions around models established by the instrument, via item 1 of the instrument examining the principle of models as depictions, item 2 and 3 looking at the multiplicity of models and also items 4, 5 and also item 6 probing the dynamic nature of models.

Models as representations

There were substantial distinctions throughout the year groups via 23%, 34% and 25% of Year 8, 9 and also 10 basic scientific research students, respectively, and also only 9% of the Year 11 students explained a model as an accurate duplicate of truth. This result compares to those reported by Grosslight et al. (1991) where also greater percentperiods of students (around 50%) believed that "the version must be precise, smaller or proportional" (p. 810). The difference in between the age groups is substantial and offers clear proof that older and also even more skilled students have actually a far better knowledge of the nature of models.

Without a doubt, many scientific models are not precise and also with even more abstract concepts imprecise models are used bereason truth is as well facility, also impossible, to duplicate. Tright here is a dilemma for some students in accepting the lack of precision of some models. The factors provided to support the answer in item 1 that models are representations encompass "helps us to check out points too tiny to see", "How atoms look is a theory, no one has actually seen them", "Science is also complicated, it can"t be an exact duplicate of reality", and also "They are how we desire to think points behave actually or look choose. However before, they aren"t specific as there are many exceptions". "Although I understand also that the models aren"t the actual point, it does make it easier to see exactly how a molecule might work" and also "they only assist us to gain an concept of exactly how somepoint should look and how it behaves etc". These comments reflect the intricacy of the version concept and the subtle distinctions in students" interpretations. In contrast, reasons offered to support the alternative response that models are specific duplicates of truth include: "prcooktop and also tested that it is accurate", "bereason that is exactly how they are stood for in the chemistry text book" and also "atlas". The issue of reality arises below, through a lot of students expertise that the model is not genuine yet is a representation.

The multiplicity of models

Items 2 and also 3 examined the copresence of multiple models, revealing that practically 90% of students agreed that many models can be supplied to define clinical phenomena. When considering the prestige of making use of even more than one design, students supported their option by saying, "Tright here can be a number of models that occupational because no one actually knows what is correct"; "to see things from different perspectives"; "various models of the exact same point might be used to emphasise and also display in detail certain aspects" and "phenomena are points we try to understand and also it might take miscellaneous models to make clear the phenomena and how it works". Regardless of this extremely high response tright here was still a significant distinction between the Year groups with 31% of Year 8 students agreeing that "one version only" is preferable. This outcome supports the assertion that older and also more skilled students have a better knowledge of the roles of models and also the diversity of design types as argued in the previous area.

The dynamic nature of models

Items 4, 5 and 6 encountered the changing nature of models, via 73% of students believing that a model is accepted on the facts that assistance it and the theory; 86% agreed that a design is welcomed as soon as it deserve to define results and also 83% believed that scientific models will certainly adjust later on. The differences in between the teams are rather marked in Item 4 with 40% of Year 8 students believing that researchers are "influenced by their personal feelings or motives" compared with 23% of Year 11 students that host this watch. Similarly via item 5, 29% of Year 8 students think "scientific models will certainly not adjust in future years" whereas just 17% of Year 11 students assistance this concept. The consistency in the differences in between year teams for items 4, 5 and also 6 supports the assertion that the students are getting a far better expertise of the role of models as they learn more about science. The factors offered to support the concept of the dynamic nature of models consisted of "facts might adjust due to technology", "they have been proven wrong in the previous, so what we are finding out currently might all be non-existent or wrong" and also "As we generate a better understanding of subjects we will certainly be better able to create progressively "correct" models". These responses, which described clinical models through respect to their duty in the scientific world and also the scientific procedure and also link the clinical version to the wider perspective of clinical changes, provide evidence that a few students are arising a dynamic perspective of scientific research. This epistemological perspective is not commonly taught straight in course but even more regularly instraight through instance. The responses of the Year 11 students given as justification for their alternative offered proof of a broad range of understandings.

A sophisticated dispute provided by 3 students for Item 5 justified that the acceptance of a new model goes past the valid idea of the version needing to efficiently define outcomes. One student described that "if a brand-new scientific design is not welcomed by the majority of researchers, it won"t be offered — even if it does efficiently define results". Anvarious other student responded "without assistance, then you can"t succeed, various other researchers need to prove your version is valid". A developing/mixed epistemology is generally displayed in the comments such as "It has actually already been proven that clinical models will readjust as knowledge rises and modern technology develops, models may be incorrect or not as much as day as they have to be". The over comments depicted the web links between models and also the students" understanding of the process of science.

The results of this research are encouraging bereason the majority of students had a scientifically acceptable understanding of the design principle and also the level of expertise improved through increasing year levels in this cross-age examine. However, the study likewise figured out some students" weaknesses and also alternate conceptions that have been used as a basis for identifying what students have to understand about models. Alterindigenous conceptions include: a design being an accurate copy; there being just one feasible model for a details phenomenon which is unchangeable; and also the value of a model being determined by scientists" opinions.

Criteria that students usage to classify models

In response to Inquiry 2: What are the criteria that students use to classify models?, the 3 conceptions of models determined by the instrument have been provided to develop a typology of models targeting the common alternate conceptions that students have displayed in this area: Models as representations

— refers to the objective of a model and also the accuracy of a model; The multiplicity of models — describes the mode of representation; The dynamic nature of models — refers to the permanency of models. A typology based upon these three conceptions highlights the attributes of certain models and have to resolve the alternative conceptions by investigating four characteristics:

1.The Setting of representation refers to the physical nature of the depiction e.g., visual, concrete, symbolic, verbal, 2 or 3 dimensional, static or dynamic, digital, responsive, interactive.

2.How Accuprice is the model? Is the depiction a precise replica or range model of the target? Is it imprecise or impressionistic?

3.What is the Purpose of the model? Is it a teaching model, an explanatory version, a predictive design, a mental model, a theoretical version, an analogical version, a scale design, or a simulation? More than one response may be correct.

4.The Permanency of the model. Is this representation accepted as fact? Is it just an idea?

These characteristics (Setting, Accuracy, Purpose and also Permanency — abbreviated with the letters MAPP) deserve to be used to classify models in a descriptive method and also may aid students construct their very own ontological frame for models. It is greatly assumed that students geneprice their own personal typology of which they may or might not be cognisant. However before by presenting the substantial criteria, students are assisted and also directed in this process.

A theoretical frame for finding out with models

The classification criteria (MAPP) arisen from the outcomes of this research deserve to be supplied to aid determine the features of models, in all 4 forms of models considered, and is included right into the original theoretical framework of models that was emerged from the literature (Figure 1), to create Figure 2. This theoretical frame (Figure 2) of models in the discovering process provides a review of just how and why models are useful to finding out.


The basic input and also output classification describes just how the 4 different design categories (Gilbert and Boulter, 1995) relate to the discovering procedure while ontological and also epistemological elements of students" knowledge deserve to additionally be layered onto this plan. Thstormy teaching we endeavour to adjust, construct or modify students" thinking and also expertise to be even more scientifically acceptable. The evaluation right here concentrates on the students" understanding of the design principle only, without considering the actual clinical concepts and also expertise which the models are being supplied to describe.

The focus of the framework is indeed the finding out process and the advancement of the learners" psychological model. Learning can be explained as the building of mental models. Meta-cognition is a reflection of a learners personal expertise or reasoning (Ricessential and Stacy, 2000). Each individual hregarding evaluate and incorporate new information right into his or her existing meta-cognitive framework. Tright here is extant literature on this procedure highlighting the obstacles and also bookkeeping for the alternate conceptions that aincrease. The psychological model and the clinical design deserve to contradict each various other once they are grounded in various general framefunctions (Duit and Glynn, 1996). Tiberghein (1994) investigated exactly how students are modellers themselves by building their very own mental models to validate their very own knowledge structure. Bodner and also Domin (2000) investigated the use of depictions in problem fixing in which understanding schema were activated and the success of the problem resolving was dependent on the student creating a depiction to establish a conmessage for knowledge the trouble on which other depictions might be constructed. This finding demonstrates the relationships in between the knowledge structure and representations and also the accommodation and also adaptation of new indevelopment. Meaningful learning via the interior building process not by means of the direct transmission process needs discovering by doing, and by building and criticism quite than by listening and is reflected in an integrated expertise schema.

The expressed model is the personal expression of the students" understanding of the phenomena, the product of the students" knowledge building, which can administer some indication of their psychological version. The streamlined framework is not exclusive — there are many kind of determinants influencing the discovering procedure, neverthemuch less, this evaluation has focussed on the role of models in finding out.

Other study has actually suggested that teachers recognise the prestige of models in learning (Savec, Vrtacnik, Gilbert and also Peklaj, 2006; Van Driel and also Verloop, 2002). Students" representational competence is a important skill that is occurred with modelling and practice (Kozma and also Rusmarket, 2005) and also teachers have the right to play a far-ranging duty. An intentional pedagogical strategy utilizing the MAPP frame could improve this ability.

The VOMMS instrument has gave evidence that many kind of students have actually an excellent understanding of the role of models in scientific research through respect to the representational nature of models, the altering nature of models and the multiplicity of models.

A cross-age evaluation of student responses to the information confirmed that all items in the instrument assistance the assertion that these students acquired a much better knowledge of the duty of models as they learned more around scientific research. Some Year 11 students gave evidence of having developed a scientific epistemology.

The term design and also its use in science are wide and also varied. The recognition of different version qualities consisting of mode, accuracy, function and permanency might enhance students" ontological expertise of models especially the category, form, duty and place of models in the process of science. This recognition has actually the potential to improve students" ontological perspective of models.

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The theoretical frame for models and also learning gives a way of expertise exactly how models are affiliated in the discovering process. Because all learning leads to mental models it is practical to understand the partnership between design categories and discovering. This enhanced expertise has the potential to improve learners" epistemological perspective.


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