Modeling in Science Education: A Synthesis of Recent Discovery Research PreK-12 Projects

This review synthesizes findings from 18 NSF-funded projects, totaling nearly $22 million, that studied scientific modeling in science education from prekindergarten to Grade 12. The projects typically used descriptive designs to understand digital and nondigital modeling resources that help students explore scientific phenomena. Further, the projects provide initial evidence that resources supporting student modeling, such as modeling platforms and computer simulations, can promote science learning.

Key Findings

  • DRK-12 projects identified the importance of providing scaffolds for student modeling in science education. Teacher guidance and digital resources that provided as-you-go instructions were found to support more effective model construction and student learning.  
  • DRK-12 projects generated preliminary evidence about the relationship between using models and student outcomes regarding science knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
    • Many projects used case studies, naturalistic observation, and design-based research to understand how students interact with specific modeling resources. These projects demonstrated that students who use simulations or modeling platforms show pre/post gains in their scientific content knowledge or attitudes toward science.  
    • Other projects used comparison study designs that provided preliminary evidence that modeling platforms improve student outcomes relative to a comparison group.
  • Reviewed DRK-12 projects produced promising proofs of concept but limited causal evidence for improving modeling-based instruction. Future work may extend these findings by providing more rigorous evidence for effectiveness, more research regarding tools to assess modeling skills, and more investment in understanding how modeling platforms are implemented.

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