2.4 Teacher Challenges when Using Models to Teach about Weather and Climate in Middle School Classrooms

Monday, 7 January 2013: 2:15 PM
Room 13AB (Austin Convention Center)
Morgan Brown Yarker, Yarker Consulting, Cedar Rapids, IA; and C. O. Stanier, C. Forbes, and S. Park

According to the National Science Education Standards (NSES), teachers are encouraged to use science models in the classroom as a way to aid in the understanding of the nature of the scientific process. This is of particular importance to the atmospheric science community because climate and weather models are very important when it comes to understanding current and future behaviors of our atmosphere. Although familiar with weather forecasts on television and the Internet, most people do not understand the process of using computer models to generate 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. Therefore, it makes sense that recent research in science education indicates that scientific models and modeling should be a topic covered in K-12 classrooms as part of a comprehensive science curriculum.

The purpose of this research study is to describe how three middle school teachers use science models to teach about topics in climate and weather, as well as the challenges they face incorporating models into the classroom. Results indicate that teachers perceive models to be physical representations that can be used as evidence to convince students that the teacher's conception of the concept is correct. For example, two teachers set up a laboratory demonstration to convince students that a vial with carbon dioxide will heat up faster under a heat lamp than a vial without carbon dioxide. None of the teachers discuss using non-physical types of models, such as diagrams, mathematical formulas, theoretical models, or conceptual representations, even though they were observed using them during class. Additionally, teachers tended to use them as ways to explain an idea to their students; they rarely discussed the idea that models are a representation of reality (as opposed to a replication of reality) and never discussed the predictive power of models and how they are used to further scientific knowledge.

The results of this study indicate that these teachers do not have a complete understanding of science models and the role they play in the scientific process. As a result, the teachers struggle to incorporate modeling into the classroom in a way that aligns with what the NSES suggests. In addition, all teachers described concerns about utilizing models in the classroom, citing time constraints and uncertainty about student learning outcomes; therefore, the teachers tended to lean on models as “proof” of a particular concept rather than a representation of a concept. In actuality, scientists do not just use models to explain a concept, they also use them to make projections and as a way to improve our understanding the atmosphere. A possible consequence of teachers using models as “proof” of a concept is that students expect climate and forecast models to be concrete and exact, rather than tentative and representative. There is a need to further our understanding of how models can be appropriately utilized in the classroom, particularly in a way that emphasizes the role models play in scientific inquiry. Increasing student understanding of climate and weather models is important to meet the needs of future STEM professionals, decision-makers, and the general populace to support rational decision-making about weather and the future of climate by an educated society.

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner