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Exploring 3rd-grade students' model-based explanations about plant growth and development

Laura Zangori, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


To develop scientific literacy, elementary students should engage in knowledge-building of core concepts through scientific practice (NRC, 2012). A core scientific practice is modeling where students develop and use models to scientifically reason and build conceptual understanding about discipline-specific concepts. Yet scientific modeling remains under-emphasized in elementary science learning environments and little past research has explored early learners' engagement in domain-specific modeling practices. The purpose of this design-based research study was to identify the ways in which elementary students engage in model-based reasoning. Three learning performances were built to examine and explore how 3rd-grade students' developed and used models to generate model-based explanations about plant processes. First, using design-based research, each learning performance was empirically grounded to examine 3rd-grade students' engagement in epistemic features of model-based explanations about (1) plant structure and function, (2) the plant life cycle, and (3) plant relationships within an ecosystem. Next, the learning performance framework was used as a rubric to measure 3 rd-grade students (n = 73) mechanism-based scientific explanations generated from the models they developed during a long-term curriculum enactment about plant growth and development. Findings from empirical grounding of the learning performance highlight students' conceptual knowledge about plant processes and indicate that 3rd-grade students use this knowledge to reason about how and why plants grow, develop, and survive. Findings from model scoring and qualitative analysis imply that 3rd-grade students require more sophisticated opportunities and continued engagement in model-based reasoning to understand plant structure and function in order to reason about how and why plants grow, develop, and survive.

Subject Area

Elementary education|Science education

Recommended Citation

Zangori, Laura, "Exploring 3rd-grade students' model-based explanations about plant growth and development" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3689070.