Modeling in Primary Grades (MPG): Science Learning Through Content Rich Inquiry

This exploratory project examines how teachers of second grade students scaffold the development of student conceptual models and their understanding of the nature of scientific models and modeling processes in physical science conceptual areas associated with the particulate nature of matter. This foundational research provides descriptive exemplars that can be shared in both the research literature and in practitioner publications as examples of what cognitively rich pedagogy can achieve.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1222853
Funding Period: 
Monday, October 1, 2012 to Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Full Description: 

This exploratory project examines how teachers of second grade students scaffold the development of student conceptual models and their understanding of the nature of scientific models and modeling processes in physical science conceptual areas associated with the particulate nature of matter. Teachers receive professional development around ways in which they can facilitate productive disciplinary discussions with young children that result in students coming to understand core ideas in the Next Generation Science Standards. The project focuses on the topics of matter and sound based on the FOSS units "Solids and Liquids" and "Water," and the STC unit "Sound". It builds on an earlier project on life science for kindergarten teachers and students to expand the research communities understanding of how young children learn in science. Researchers from Purdue University are working with public schools in Lafayette that have high Hispanic populations and low SES, as well as a private school system with a more affluent population.

This project employs a mixed methodological research design that incorporates rich qualitative data collection and analysis combined with a quasi-experimental design that examines student learning across a treatment and comparison group with the same curricular materials but with differing support for teachers to engage students in disciplinary productive discussions about the science phenomena that they are studying. Research questions are designed to elicit descriptions of the differing aspects of learning that are evidenced by students together with rich descriptions of the teaching strategies that are associated with the classroom environments. Because this is an exploratory study, no causal comparisons between teacher practices and student outcomes are drawn, but the project provides the underpinnings that will support future research that would take a more rigorous approach. The project further develops the methodology of examining disciplinary rich description of student models to advance the understanding of how content and reasoning interact with young children.

Recent research in cognition has demonstrated that young children reason in a more sophisticated manner than previously understood. The Next Generation Science Standards has a strong focus on student reasoning practices, and the development of student explanations of science phenomenon requires that students have the opportunity to experience classrooms in which discussions of scientific ideas are scaffolded. Teachers need examples of how to interact with young children and of how to interpret what students say in ways that move the understanding of scientific concepts forward. This foundational research provides descriptive exemplars that can be shared in both the research literature and in practitioner publications as examples of what cognitively rich pedagogy can achieve.

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