Constructing, revising, applying, and defending models is part of the core work of science. Regardless of their domain or specialization, scientists build and refine models of the world and use them for the purpose of study. Models also serve as forms of scientific argument, used to support claims and counterclaims about the nature of physical reality. Despite the centrality of modeling to science, the practice of modeling is nearly absent from school curricula and, when models are present, they are often portrayed as fixed representations used for demonstration rather than for reasoning.
This research project will explore how middle-school students’ understanding of scientific models supports the co-development of their understanding of the statistical concepts of variability and change. Using citizen science-based ecosystems investigations developed by GMRI as a context for students’ modeling work, this research will study how and to what extent students’ use of different forms of modeling informs their classroom-based investigations in twelve collaborating classrooms. This project will also investigate how and to what extent the development of teachers’ comfort and proficiency with modeling changes students’ engagement in these forms of modeling and their understandings of ecosystems.
A key contribution of the project is leveraging this program’s emphasis on field research to ground the need to invent, revise, and contest models that account for ecosystem variability and change. The understandings that result from the project’s research will provide evidence toward, first, scaling the learning experiences to the network of 500+ teachers who are part of the Ecosystem Investigation Network, and, second, replication by any program nationally that aims to engage students in data-rich, field-based ecological investigations.
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