Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Facilitating Conceptual Change through Modeling in the Middle School Science Classroom

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Facilitating Conceptual Change through Modeling in the Middle School Science Classroom

Article excerpt

Motion is a student-friendly science topic for middle school students because of the many kinesthetic opportunities for pushing, pulling, and accelerating objects. Yet we know these opportunities alone do not promote students' conceptual understanding. Fechhelm and Nelson (2007) note that students never fully understand the concept of an object's motion. Therefore, engaging students in both hands-on and minds-on experiences is needed for education that is relevant and complete.

Many middle school students enter science classrooms with pre-conceived ideas about their world. Some of these ideas are misconceptions that hinder students from developing accepted concepts in science, such as those related to motion. This article explores implications from an experience where middle school teachers used modeling strategies within the 5E pedagogy to actively engage their 50 eighth grade students in the conceptual change process during an all-day, week-long summer outreach camp.

The role of conceptual change in learning middle school science

Teaching for conceptual change based on multiple learning and teaching strategies means approaching science instruction from a knowledge-as-theory perspective (Özdemir 8c Clark, 2007). This focus was the underlying philosophy of a three-week professional development (PD) program involving five middle school teachers who participated in a camp that took place prior to direct work with the eighth graders. The knowledgeto-theory perspective sought evidence of students' assimilation and accommodation of new ideas (Kuhn, 1962; Posner, Strike, Hewson, 8c Gertzog, 1982). The PD sessions and instructional time during the outreach camp were videotaped to collect evidence of any conceptual changes in thinking that took place for both the teachers and the students. These tapes yielded evidence for determining the degree of change that might have occurred, and the teacher-student interactions offered a formative basis for guiding the professional reflection and planning of subsequent new science lessons during the camp. Through careful observation, teachers could see how their students assimilated scientifically-based thinking in place of preconceptions.

To start the conceptual change process, teachers in the summer outreach camp determined what students understood about the topic and linked these ideas with new ones embodied within the science lesson. To achieve this balance of valuing student ideas as well as presenting new concepts within science lessons, these middle school science teachers began by planning an array of handson modeling experiences following the 5E pedagogy (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate).

According to Jonassen, Strobel, and Gottdenker (2005), modeling is a key strategy for supporting and assessing conceptual change in students' thinking, and it provides a rationale for engaging students in discourse and argumentation. Throughout these activities, students reflect on their thinking and their understanding of how science and mathematics work (National Research Council, 2012). Scientists use argumentation as they examine, review, and evaluate their knowledge and ideas from others (NGSS Lead States, 2013).

Although several theories of conceptual change are presented in science education literature, only a small segment addresses how to successfully engage middle school students in the conceptual change process and how to assess it within a broad range of learning contexts. Typically, young adolescents are curious and eager to learn about their worlds. From early childhood, students are active learners, and they prefer interactions with peers during learning experiences (Kellough 8c Kellough, 2008). Experience plays a central role in affording students the ability to construct meaning about what they learn. Within middle school classroom settings, students must have learning opportunities to use and develop their cognitive abilities to solve real-world problems. …

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