Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Department of Biology


Ulrike Trier, Annette Upmeier zu Belzen

Students` Conceptions of Models and Modelling and the impact on Model Competence

Various studies identified that students have an insufficient understanding of scientific models. The mental concepts of models as produced by students differ from the scientific conception of models and modelling (Grosslight et al. 1991). This gap is especially relevant in science subjects, where models are the major learning and teaching tools (Harrison & Treagust 2000). They are essential for the acquisition of flexible, transferable, and applicable knowledge (Leisner 2005). Model competence is therefore a profound part of scientific literacy (Gilbert & Boulter 2000, Driver et al. 1996).
In our research method we define model competence as a system of declarative knowledge and procedural skills that enable a learner to autonomously solve problems using scientific models (Leisner 2005). Previous studies in schools showed that students have a limited perception of models including related declarative knowledge and procedural skills. In this context, we study (I) the qualities of student conceptions about models and modelling, (II) typical mental concepts of students and their influence on students` using specific models, (III) how the model competence is affected by interventions, and (IV) students’ employment of particular sub-competencies of procedural skills as differentiated in a competence structure model.

To research the quality of students’ conceptions, we collect data on students’ relevant mental concepts of models and modelling to identify their influence on the practical use of concrete models in semi-structured interviews with interventions. An initial questionnaire has shown unsystematic conceptions of declarative knowledge and a lack of recognizing the role of models for scientific reasoning (Terzer & Upmeier zu Belzen, submitted). Simultaneously, we assemble established scientific conceptions from academic literature and employ the approach of educational reconstruction to contrast students’ with scientists’ conceptions of models, modelling and scientific use of models and align them to produce appropriate interventions, which are aiming at conceptual reconstruction of students’ conceptions (Kattmann 1997).
For the domain of procedural skills, we first derive four sub-competencies of procedural skills from Mayer’s (2007) empirically substantiated model of competence structure for scientific reasoning. The interviews and an according test consisting of a series of open and closed tasks will give an empirical account of student’s actual levels of procedural skills in each of these four sub-competencies. This evaluation approach can also be utilized to test the improvements effected by the targeted interventions and to test the general dependencies between the declarative and the procedural model competence.