Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

A Scientific Modeling Sequence for Teaching Earth Seasons

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

A Scientific Modeling Sequence for Teaching Earth Seasons

Article excerpt


The ''Earth Seasons'' instructional sequence described in this article emerged from consideration of several intertwining areas of science education, including supporting students in scientific modeling practices, developing scientific model- based reasoning, and using students' ideas as resources for responsive instruction. We addressed these areas while developing and implementing a multiyear science education professional development partnership with teachers of grades 3-8.

The goals for the partnership included supporting teachers' development of knowledge and practices related to science content, science education pedagogy, and culturally responsive instruction. In this article, we draw on literature concerning use of scientific modeling with students, and we describe the context and rationale for the sequence we developed, the sequence itself, and our findings for instructional effectiveness and limitations.


In developing our ''Earth Seasons'' sequence, we drew heavily on science education literature, and particularly Schwarz et al.'s (2009) article describing ways to use scientific modeling in instruction with students. To do so effectively, it is necessary to understand what a scientific model is, consider the modeling practices in which students should engage, and consider how instruction should be sequenced to engage students in modeling practices that lead to development of sophisticated scientific understanding and practices (Windschitl et al., 2008; Passmore et al., 2009; Schwartz et al., 2009).

A scientific model is an abstract, simplified representation of a system or phenomenon that makes its central features explicit and visible and can be used to generate explanations and predictions (Harrison and Treagust, 2000; Passmore et al., 2009; Schwarz, et al., 2009). There are multiple types of scientific models; several examples include conceptual models, mathematical models, and physical models. People (including scientists) use models in multiple ways. For example, we can reason using models to develop explanations of and predictions about natural phenomena. Building from the ways in which scientists use models, meaningful scientific modeling instruction with students involves engaging students in the following practices:

^ ''Students construct models consistent with prior evidence and theories to illustrate, explain, or predict phenomena.

^ Students use models to illustrate, explain, and predict phenomena.

^ Students compare and evaluate the ability of different models to accurately represent and account for patterns in phenomena and to predict new phenomena.

^ Students revise models to increase their explanatory and predictive power, taking into account additional evidence or aspects of a phenomenon'' (Schwarz et al., 2009, p. 635).

In their article, Schwarz and colleagues provide a roadmap for the way in which activities can be arranged in order to engage students in these practices. To organize the ''Earth Seasons'' sequence instruction, we drew on Schwarz et al.'s modeling sequence with the intent of engaging our teachers (subsequently referred to as students) in meaningful modeling practices to develop deep and sophisticated scientific understanding. Most of the activities we included in the sequence were not new. However, the arrangement and the instructional approach, which actively involved students in developing and using scientific models to systematically construct and test aspects of a scientific explanation for Earth's seasons, were new. The sequence also scaffolded student learning to make predictions about related phenomena (e.g., seasonal characteristics for hypothetical planets).

The sequence described in this article differs from some of the referenced, previously developed, Earth seasons activities (e.g., Smith and Ford, 2001; Franknoi, 2011) in its emphasis on using students' informal ideas to test and develop scientific models. …

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