Pupils’ conceptions of models and modelling in secondary school physics teaching

University of Joensuu, Finland

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Abstract

The aim of this study was to investigate pupils’ understanding of the concept of the model and the effect of teaching with models and modelling to this concept with grade seven pupils. The specific aims of the study were to investigate the following:

  1. What are the typical categories of the pupils’ concept of the model?
  2. Does the teaching with models affect pupils’ concept of the model?

In the first phase 15 pupils were participating. In the second phase the teaching unit was presented at another school, with 18 pupils involved whose age was 13 years. The researcher was also the teacher of the first phase. The researcher holds a permanent teacher position at the school but at the time of the study he was a researcher at the University of Joensuu on this occasion. He taught at the school only for the duration of the teaching experiment. In the second phase the teacher was the normal teacher of the class.

The data was collected by means of questionnaires, tests and interviews both before and after presentation of the teaching unit. In the interviews we used a prepared list of questions but every pupil was not asked quite the same questions. We, however, tried to cover the whole target. The teaching unit, which was based on an earlier study of the researcher, was designed for 7th grade physics (13 year-old pupils). The duration of the teaching unit was eight hours. The pupils’ pre-interviews were used in designing of the unit. It started with a “black box” experiment where the pupils had to make models of what was inside the box without opening it. After the experiment, and even after the conclusion of the whole teaching unit the teacher did not tell the pupils what was inside the box. By means of this experiment we wanted to simulate Nature, since Nature does not tell the researcher her secrets. The pupils were subsequently required to classify things according to their state of matter. The pupils were told that the structure of matter could be portrayed by means of different models. Two of them, the model of continuous matter and the particle model of matter were introduced. Both of these models are scientifically valid. In the next phase the students modelled gaseous, solid and liquid states of matter using role-play simulations and computer models. Each state of matter was studied through approximately the same phases.

The pre- and post interviews were united to one database so that we would get all the categories that exist in the data. No stated categorisation was used but it raised from the data. The main categories were formed so that they differ from each other qualitatively. We get three main categories:

  1. Main category A (a basic understanding of the concept of the model)
  2. Main category B (a moderate understanding of the concept of the model)
  3. Main category C (an advanced understanding of the concept of the model)

The pupil belonging to main category A thinks that:

A model is a thing, act or a so-called engineer model, which is to be copied. The fitting of the model depends on who is making the model but the model has to be as accurate as possible. We can change the model if there are mistakes in it or if maker likes to do so.

The pupil belonging to main category B thinks that:

A model represents a target that is known or unknown. The main purpose of the model is to help in learning and teaching. The fitting of the model depends on the nature of the model and its changing depends on the researchers willingness or research.

The pupil belonging to main category C thinks that:

A model represents a target that is known or unknown. The purpose of the model is to give an idea of target and help in conceptualising it. A model gives also the vocabulary to represent the target. The fitting of the model depends on its use and its changing is founded on research.

The analysis of the pre-interview shows that the pupils have very limited concepts of the models. 30 pupils of 33 belong to the main category A. Only three pupils had the idea that a model represents something and that the model does not have to be an object. Analysis of the post-interviews shows that improvement has taken place concerning their concept of the model. Now only one of the pupils belong to the main category A and as many as 14 belong to the main category C. This means that the vast majority of the pupils have the idea that a model represents a target that is either known or unknown. We can say that teaching with models and modelling has affected pupils’ concepts of the model. The results show that pupils’ understanding of the modelling idea of science improves if modelling is taken as a real goal of the teaching unit. Therefore the ideas of the teaching unit could be used in designing science courses.

Key words: model, modelling, teaching of physics, structure of matte

Full reference for the thesis
Heikki Saari; Pupils’ conceptions of models and modelling in secondary school physics teaching – University of Joensuu. Department of Physics. Väisälä labotatory Dissertations 22; , 2000 – 207 p. ISBN 951-708-916-3

References

Saari, H. & Viiri, J. 2000. Teaching and learning the concept of the model in secondary schools. Teoksessa Behrendt, H. et al. (eds.) Research in Science Education Past, Present, and Future, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 259-264.

Saari, H. & Viiri, J. 2003. A Research Based teaching sequence to teach the idea of modelling to 7th grade students. International Journal of Science Education. (In print)

Correspondence

Heikki Saari
Department of physics
University of Joensuu
P.O. Box 111
FIN-80101 Joensuu
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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