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Modeling in Elementary STEM Curriculum

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Research Related to Learning and Teaching Engineering in Elementary Classrooms

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1075.1 - 22.1075.23



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Paper Authors


John C. Bedward North Carolina State University

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John Bedward is in the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education at NC State University. A Science Education doctoral student and graduate research assistant at the NC State Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. He received his B.S./M.S. in Technology Education from NC State, taught middle school technology education, and led informal science investigations at the Science House in the area of photonics, a learning outreach initiative at NC State. His research interests include STEM research education, scientific and technical visualization, multimodal literacy, virtual learning objects and cognition.

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Eric N. Wiebe North Carolina State University

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Eric N. Wiebe, Ph.D.
Dr. Wiebe is an Associate Professor in the Department of STEM Education at NC State University and Senior Research Fellow at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. A focus of his research and outreach work has been the integration of multimedia and multimodal teaching and learning approaches in STEM instruction. He has also worked on research and evaluation of technology integration in instructional settings in both secondary and post-secondary education. Dr. Wiebe has been a member of ASEE since 1989.

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Modeling in elementary STEM curriculum Elementary science curriculum affords many opportunities for students to engage ininquiry science, technological problem solving and meaning making through scientific andengineering models and modeling. An ongoing practice is the emphasis on student observationsand sense making across the sciences (e.g., states of matter, soils, food chemistry and landforms).The pedagogical challenge is instruction that exploits student learning around the processes andmechanisms that underlie visible phenomena, which is often temporally and spatiallyinaccessible within the elementary science classroom. Students remain fixed on reporting theobservable aspects of the phenomena without truly understanding why. As important, whenstudents begin to think about phenomena at a microscopic level, they apply their macroscopicobservations as to why something occurred. For instance, the collapse of a model dam is simplythe result of water pressure as seen as the visible surface area of the water. The concept oferosive action at a particle level or the pressure of total water volume may not factor into studentunderstanding. A more nuanced view of models and modeling around the invisible aspects ofphenomena can facilitate student sense making. Over the course of eight months two urban schools were selected, four classrooms onefrom each grade level 2-5 where engaged in modeling activities that where a) designed around amodeling pedagogy, b) leveraged graphic modeling tools to make sense of phenomena at themicroscopic level, c) integrated within their existing curriculum, d) provided opportunities todeepen student sense making, and e) all within a mixed-ability classroom setting. The teacherswere self-selected based on a two-year Graphically Enhanced Elementary Science study, wheregraphic-modeling tools were designed to support student representational practices in theirscience notebooks. This qualitative study provided in-classroom recordings (audio and video) ofindividual interviews, small group discourse and whole-classroom modeling activities to elicitstudent thinking and reasoning about phenomena. Students demonstrate various levels of abstraction as tools and resources are madeavailable to them. For instance, a student engaged in a landform activity expressed theirunderstanding of chemical weathering (a microscopic phenomena) by first gesturing water fluidrolling over particle material than verbally expressing how this reaction takes away material thatis deposited down stream. In another instance, a whole-class modeling activity was conducted tofacilitate student consensus around particle movement during a stream table experiment.Students’ leveraged graphic tools to discuss landform behavior based on particle size, slope,water pressure and material saturation. Several students where interviewed throughout variousstages of the investigation—in the act of building a model, representing their models graphically,and leveraging their graphic and physical models with gestures to explain their observations. Students are willing and able to express their scientific ideas and mini-theories. Students’self-explanations use multiple modes (verbal, gestural, graphic) to model their understanding ofphenomena at the macroscopic and microscopic level. Modeling resources, the use of graphictools (e.,g., a Magnifier tool, used to bring into view a microscopic aspect of a phenomena),hand-gestures, physical models and graphic representations help to organize student thinking andreasoning beyond surface level observations. Student modes of discourse need license and spaceif they are going to build a more robust foundation for future learning. Student assessments bothformative and summative must take into account students’ natural inclination to leveragemultiple modes of discourse, as it is an important aspect of how students construct knowledge.Engineering as a profession makes widespread use of physical and virtual modeling tools.Elementary grades are not too early for students to begin developing facilities with models as away to both understand concepts and solve scientific and technological problems.

Bedward, J. C., & Wiebe, E. N. (2011, June), Modeling in Elementary STEM Curriculum Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18771

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