Critical Design Decisions for Successful Model-Based Inquiry in Science Classrooms

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Ronald W. Rinehart
Ravit Golan Duncan
Clark A. Chinn
Trudy A. Atkins
Jessica DiBenedetti


Current science education reforms and the new standards (Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS], 2013) advocate that K-12 students gain proficiency in the knowledge-generating practices of scientists. These practices include argumentation, modeling, and coordinating evidence with theories and models. Practice-based instruction is very different from traditional methods. Creating practice-rich instructional materials presents substantive challenges even for experienced educational designers because of the unlimited choice of potential phenomena to study and the inherent difficulties of developing the associated models and evidence. In this design case we will discuss some of the affordances, constraints and tradeoffs associated with making decisions about four key design principles of engaging students with evidence-based scientific modeling. The first set of decisions involves identifying the focus phenomenon. The second set of decisions regards how to represent the focus phenomenon as an explanatory scientific model and how to design for student engagement with modeling. The third set of decisions involves selecting and developing the evidence students will use to evaluate models. The final set of design decisions pertains to developing supporting activities that foster disciplinary engagement (Engle & Conant, 2002) during modeling. We developed a variety of approaches that address these four design challenges and present them in the context of a unit we developed for a middle school life science course focusing on genetics and inheritance. This design case illustrates how a group of designers, including university researchers, teachers, and school administrators, arrived at collective design decisions bearing on these four problems.


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Rinehart, R. W., Duncan, R. G., Chinn, C. A., Atkins, T. A., & DiBenedetti, J. (2016). Critical Design Decisions for Successful Model-Based Inquiry in Science Classrooms. International Journal of Designs for Learning, 7(2).
K-12 Classroom Implementation
Author Biographies

Ronald W. Rinehart, Rutgers University

Department of Educational Psychology

Ph.D. Candidate

Ravit Golan Duncan, Rutgers University

Associate Professor

Department of Learning & Teaching

Clark A. Chinn, Rutgers University

Department of Educational Psychology

Trudy A. Atkins, East Brunswick Public Schools

Science Supervisor

Jessica DiBenedetti, East Brunswick Public Schools

Science Teacher


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