Students are frequently exposed to simulations (particularly the computer-based type) of science concepts relatively passively and without direct instruction from the teacher with the hopes that simply observing and interacting with the simulations will result in learning of the target concept. This study adds a socio-physical aspect to the use of simulations as a teaching medium by having K-12 students take on active roles of key elements of natural systems in order to cooperatively act out or kinesthetically simulate particular scientific phenomena. We refer to these kinesthetic simulations as Kinulations and our team has developed a collection of 30 of these movement-based, human-sized modelling activities for a variety of grade levels and science concepts. While having students participate in these kinds of active simulations is not a new instructional strategy, our interest lies in exploring the ways teachers can support students’ engagement in the modeling of and reasoning about abstract scientific concepts during these simulations, as opposed to simply following teachers’ directions. Our research has identified specific discussion-based strategies referred to as Cognitive Model Construction strategies that can be employed during these kinesthetic simulations to foster students’ construction and refinement of explanatory scientific models.
If science teachers are encouraged to employ explanatory model construction as a means of fostering students’ understanding of abstract concepts, they must first develop their own familiarity with the processes and products of modeling. Our work identifying and categorizing the model-based teaching strategies of experienced science teachers led to the development and piloting of an eight-week instructional unit on model-based teaching strategies for pre-service science educators. The purpose of the present study was to determine the impact of the instructional unit on the developing teachers’ beliefs about and understanding of how to engage science students in the construction of explanatory models. Through the analysis of pre and post-instruction surveys we noted that the pre-service science teachers in this study appear to have gained an increased appreciation for the importance of 1) whole class discussion, 2) centering science instruction on the learner, 3) starting from students’ prior knowledge, and 4) engaging them in an evolutionary process of generating, evaluating, and modifying explanatory models to help them better understand abstract science concepts and phenomena. Our results provide an initial existence demonstration that a course that takes discussion strategies seriously can influence the beliefs of pre-service teachers about important aspects of pedagogy.