# II Creative Reasoning Processes to Support Model Evaluation

These are ways to support student reasoning while they are evaluating a model.

Evaluatory Observations

Recall evaluatory observations
Make a prediction and collect evaluatory observations
(sometimes by having students contribute to the design of the experiment)
Use a demonstration and ask for evaluatory observations
(no example provided for this common strategy)

Theory-Centered Strategies

A teacher can also directly ask students to evaluate the model.

Examples of each are given below.

Evaluatory Observations

This type of observation is conducted or recalled after students have their initial models. They can use those models to make predictions and then conduct or recall evaluatory observations to test those predictions.

(1) The class may recall an observation that conflicts with or supports the model
or
(2) Observations can be designed expressly to test student predictions.

 Example 1: Recalling known observations conducted in the class Students suggest that currents are different in different parts of an electric circuit. The teacher asks them what the results were in a previous lab during which they had measured current as being the same in all parts of the circuit. Example 2: Recalling known observations from life experience Students were evaluating a student-drawn model of the throat that had one tube going from the nose to the lungs and a separate tube going from the mouth to the stomach. The teacher asked, “What evidence do we have? … Can you swallow and breathe at the same time?” Students replied, “No!” and, “You choke.”   This was an evaluatory observation serving to expose a problem with their current model. (They decided that there must be a single pipe that somehow went to both the lungs and the stomach. Later, they decided that the pipe must start out as a single pipe and then have two branches. This episode continues in Example 8.) Example 3: Recalling known observations from life experience T: This model says that bulbs always light when a battery is present, but have you ever heard of a short circuit? Example 4: Recalling known observations from life experience A student group draws a model of the lungs as one large cavity with 2 lobes, with no division between the lobes. T: Have you ever heard of anybody having a lung taken out? Example 5: Making a prediction, designing an experiment to collect evaluatory observations After asking for opinions on whether we breathe out less than we breathe in because we absorb all the oxygen, a teacher asks, “Could we use the breath measuring tube to see if we exhale about as much air as we inhale?

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Theory-Centered Strategies

In contrast to the data-centered (empirical) strategies above where students make observations to evaluate a model, the following are theory-centered (non-empirical) strategies where students evaluate a model for scientific criteria such as coherence or viability in a thought experiment.

Extreme Cases

During extreme case reasoning, discussion is about the effects of setting an extremely high or low value for some variable in the system. Considering what their model predicts if one aspect of the model produces an unusually small or large effect allows students to see whether their model still works for those cases.

 Example 6: Using an Extreme Case A middle school teacher asked her students, “What are sources of energy for our body?” The students suggested water, exercise, air, food, and sun among other things. These are common answers from students of this age. The teacher then suggested, ”Let’s examine whether you get energy from the air that you are breathing. How many times do we breathe in a minute?” She had the students count their breaths and they found that they took about 22 breaths per minute. Together, they calculated that a person could take about 32,000 breaths a day. The teacher then commented that a person could get a lot of energy and increase his weight a lot just by breathing. If a person obtained 100 calories in every gulp of air, after only one day that person would increase his weight by 1000 lbs. She asked the students if that is really what happens. “How much does a newborn baby weigh?” Students answered, ”Around 7 pounds.” The teacher pointed out that if the baby could get energy just from breathing, assuming a rate of 100 calories per breath, by the very next day he would weight 1000 pounds. “The baby would be so big that the parents could not hug him, and they would need a truck to carry the baby? Is that what really happens?” Students gave a resounding “No!” Laughing, they decided that, considering how much we breathe, it does not make sense that air is a source of energy for our body. This Extreme Case is also an example of a Thought Experiment, described below.

Evaluate on Internal Coherence

In this kind of discussion, the teacher helps students consider the logic of their models to identify consistent or inconsistent (contradictory) features within the models.

 Example 7: Evaluating on internal coherence The class had co-constructed a model of human circulation that involved 2 loops and a heart that had 4 chambers. One loop connected the lungs to two chambers. The other loop sent oxygen out to the body from a 3rd chamber and returned to a 4th chamber. But a student noticed that creating the 4 chambers had also created a problem: there was no longer a way for blood to flow in a complete circuit; it was now blocked by the walls added to create the chambers. (This led to a model modification.)

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Run the model

The teacher can ask students to imagine the behavior of their model over time, to run it as a "mental movie." Students can then be supported to compare the results of that behavior with other known facts. This can be an especially powerful way to use mental imagery.

 Example 8: Asking students to run the model In a class where students were learning about the structure of the throat, one of the partial models constructed by the class had two tubes: one going to the stomach and another going to the lungs. The teacher asked the students, “Is the food going to the lungs?” By imagining how food would move in such a model (visualizing the behavior), students realized that their model needed something else to explain why food does not go into the lungs. Eventually, the class added a new element to their model. (This episode continues; see Example 1 under Support Modification.)

Thought Experiments

An especially sophisticated kind of prediction students can make from their models is a prediction about an unfamiliar system or unfamiliar behavior in a system. The goal is to see whether the model works in the new situation.

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Supporting and Contributing Strategies

Most of the processes above involve mental animation. There are a number of visualization strategies teachers can use to help students Run the Model or Use Thought Experiments. See:

Different Participation Strategies may be needed at this point in the lesson.

Articles, Papers and Websites

More in-depth discussion and more student examples are found in the following papers by our team:

Generating, evaluating, and modifying scientific models using projected computer simulations (Price & Clement, 2014)

Documenting the use of expert scientific reasoning processes by high school physics students (Stephens & Clement, 2010)