Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version



Published in International Journal of Science Education, 2017, Vol. 39, no. 11, pp. 1421–1442.

doi 10.1080/09500693.2017.1336683


Copyright © 2017 Informa UK Limited (Taylor & Francis). Used by permission.


Scientific modelling is a key practice in which K-12 students should engage to begin developing robust conceptual understanding of natural systems, including water. However, little past research has explored primary students’ learning about groundwater, engagement in scientific modelling, and/or the ways in which teachers conceptualize and cultivate model-based science learning environments. We are engaged in a multi-year project designed to support 3rd-grade students’ formulation of model-based explanations (MBE) for hydrologic phenomenon, including groundwater, through curricular and instructional support. In this quasi-experimental comparative study of five 3rd-grade classrooms, we present findings from analysis of students’ MBE generated as part of experiencing a baseline curricular intervention (Year 1) and a modelling-enhanced curricular intervention (Year 2). Findings show that students experiencing the latter version of the unit made significant gains in both conceptual understanding and reasoning about groundwater, but that these gains varied by classroom. Overall, student gains from Year 1 to Year 2 were attributed to changes in two of the five classrooms in which students were provided additional instructional supports and scaffolds to enhance their MBE for groundwater. Within these two classrooms, the teachers enacted the Year 2 curriculum in unique ways that reflected their deeper understanding about the practices of modelling. Their enactments played a critical role in supporting students’ MBE about groundwater. Study findings contribute to research on scientific modelling in elementary science learning environments and have important implications for teachers and curriculum developers.