Monday, 23 January 2012
Preparing Middle School Teachers to Effectively Use Science Models to Support Learning about Climate, Weather, and Energy Topics
Hall E (New Orleans Convention Center )
As atmospheric scientists, we depend on Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) models. We use them to predict weather patterns, to understand external forcing on the atmosphere, and as evidence to make claims about atmospheric phenomenon. Therefore, it is important that we adequately prepare atmospheric science students to use computer models. However, the public should also be aware of what models are in order to understand scientific claims about atmospheric issues, such as climate change. Although familiar with weather forecasts on television and the Internet, the general public does not understand the process of using computer models to generate a weather and climate forecasts. As a result, the public often misunderstands claims scientists make about their daily weather as well as the state of climate change. Since computer models are the best method we have to forecast the future of our climate, scientific models and modeling should be a topic covered in K-12 classrooms as part of a comprehensive science curriculum. According to the National Science Education Standards, teachers are encouraged to science models into the classroom as a way to aid in the understanding of the nature of science. However, there is very little description of what constitutes a science model, so the term is often associated with scale models. Therefore, teachers often use drawings or scale representations of physical entities, such as DNA, the solar system, or bacteria. In other words, models used in classrooms are often used as visual representations, but the purpose of science models is often overlooked. Work done by Harrison and Treagust (2000) describes a variety of models that range from simple to complex. The simplest and most familiar to many students is the scale model- a scaled representation of some physical object with little emphasis on internal structure and use. The most complex types of models are those that depict multiple concepts and processes; such as maps, diagrams, and computer simulations, such as NWP models. According to Harrison and Treagust, the more complex the model, the more difficult it is for students to understand the concept it represents. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce students to the concept of modeling by beginning with the least complex types in the most effective way possible.
Based on the culmination of literature, scientific models can be defined as being representations that explain and predict scientific phenomena. By this definition, a science model is essentially what science education often refers to as a scientific theory, with the exception that the focus of models in the science classroom is on the representation; in authentic science, the focus is on explanation and prediction of the natural phenomenon. Regardless, both science theories and models are essentially claims about a phenomenon that are well supported with evidence we observe from nature. As a result, if we expect students to understand science theories, they must be able to represent them, explain them, and use them to make predictions- this is the essence of authentic science inquiry. Therefore, the most effective way to use science models in the classroom is to give students the opportunity to construct and work with their own scientific models.
The implementation of a model-based curriculum in the science classroom can be an effective way to prepare students to think critically, problem solve, and make informed decisions as a contributing member of society. However, there are few resources available to help teachers implement science models into the science curriculum effectively. Therefore, this research project looks at strategies middle school science teachers use to implement science models into their classrooms. These teachers in this study took part in a week-long professional development designed to orient them towards appropriate use of science models for a unit on weather, climate, and energy concepts. The professional development (PD) design was based on empirically tested features of effective PD for science teachers and was aimed at teaching content to the teachers while simultaneously orienting them towards effective use of science models in the classroom.
The goal of this project is to describe the strategies used during the PD to orient the teachers towards effective use of science models to learn about science content. Additionally, the teachers described how they intended to incorporate science models into their classrooms based on what they learned during the PD.