Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Department of Biology


Eva Terzer, Annette Upmeier zu Belzen

Model Competence in Biology Education
Evaluation of a Theoretical Structure using Multiple-Choice Items


In modern science, models are required in the development, investigation and application of theories and in measurement methods. The use of models leads to a knowledge gain regarding both theories and the world (Morrison & Morgan 1999). Thus, model competence functions as a “door-opener” for an elaborated understanding of the nature of science and leads to advanced qualities of scientific thinking (Leisner, 2005). It is therefore a profound part of scientific literacy (Driver et al., 1996; Gilbert & Boulter, 2000). Yet, various studies (e.g. Grosslight et al., 1991; Treagust et al., 2002) have identified that students focus rather on descriptive aspects of models than on the role of models for scientific reasoning.

On the basis of the view of models in philosophy of science (e.g. Giere, 2004; Mahr, 2009), Upmeier zu Belzen and Krueger (2010) used various studies evaluating students’ and teachers’ comprehension of models and modelling (e.g. Grosslight et al., 1991; Justi & Gilbert, 2003; Crawford & Cullin, 2005) to develop a theoretical structure of model competence. However, it still has to be tested empirically.

The multiple-choice items concentrate on students’ concrete ideas about specific models (Terzer & Upmeier zu Belzen 2010). They are calibrated in pretests and validated using thinking-aloud protocols. These data suggest a unidimensional structure of model competence and an empirical differentiation of different levels.