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Mental model construction in the “EarthView” classroom

, Teachers College, Columbia University, United States

Teachers College, Columbia University . Awarded


EarthView Explorer is a CD-ROM developed to supplement topics covered in middle and high school earth science courses. The objective was to provide students with the opportunity to explore real scientific data using an interface that maximized flexibility in retrieval and analysis, while providing a consistent visual framework for students to use during learning. This exploratory case study of three suburban high school earth science classes examined the interaction of a teacher and his students with EarthView software to begin to understand its effects on teaching and learning. Observations, student journals, pre- and post-questions, and interviews were analyzed. In addition, this study explored the potential of mental model drawing to demonstrate students' mental images of the Earth including its component subsystems and related processes acquired through EarthView. A rubric was developed to assess diagrams on their ability to illustrate parts, connections, and the underlying mechanism of a system and to rate student groups as super, master, apprentice, and novice model builders.

This research demonstrated that EarthView software influenced two aspects of learning. Students acquired a substantial amount of earth science content knowledge and were able to exercise science process skills such as graphing data, recognizing patterns, correlating and controlling variables, developing hypotheses, making inferences and forming generalizations. Students were able to “rediscover” various concepts and theories in much the same way as scientists. This “rediscovery” approach fostered by EarthView changed the nature of the classroom The teacher assumed the role of expert, guide, and facilitator. The student assumed the role of investigator. Topics that had been taught previously in a more traditional manner were turned over to students who learned by exploring, asking questions, sampling, gathering and interpreting data. Student mental model diagrams provided a means of examining students' spatial and causal knowledge of the parts and relations within earth subsystems. Nine out of twelve student groups depicted the majority of the parts and connections important to the overall function of the geosphere Earth subsystem The findings suggest that interaction with the EarthView learning environment leads to the development of complex mental models through student-controlled, first-hand analyses of scientific data.


Tallon, R.J. Mental model construction in the “EarthView” classroom. Ph.D. thesis, Teachers College, Columbia University. Retrieved May 21, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

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