Constructivism and Scientific modeling

A basic theory behind the use of Model-It™ is constructivism. Constructivism has initiated the foundations for environments that scaffold learning. One of the principal claims is that learners actively construct knowledge, based on prior experiences, and therefore, the emphasis is on the learning itself. Students have a strong role, taking responsibility of their own learning and the teacher takes up the role of the facilitator. Their understanding and knowledge is constructed through the use of such technological tools. Numerous representations of a concept contribute to the effective enhancement of knowledge-building (Hung, Tan, & Kih, 2006). Constructivism considers learner characteristics as well as the ways individuals conceptualize and understand the content. For constructivists, individuals create meaning through their interactions with the contexts and with other individuals (Jonassen, Peck, & Wilson, 1999). According to Vygotsky (1978), and Wood, Bruner & Ross (1975), learners can achieve the learning goals in ways that “would not normally be possible and that are normally out of reach” (in Jacobson & Kozma, 2000, p. 80).

Constructivists believe that authentic digital environments can be established in classes. In the case of Model-It™, learners take the opportunities they have in the class context and transfer them into the interactive software, where they represent, visualize and explain the scientific phenomena. Such tools provide opportunities for viewing problems from multiple perspectives; with Model-It™, students define all the variables themselves and consider all the relationships between the objects in the simulation, and therefore, they understand the problem from several perspectives (the perspectives of the dependent and the independent variables).

Simulations are widely used as a medium for scientific modeling, as they imitate real-world features to describe phenomena in rather simplistic ways. They are microworlds that provide realistic contexts that afford exploration and experimentation of complex systems, facilitating learners’ enhancement of understanding and construction of mental models. Simulations and modeling software afford interactivity, through which learners can view and experience the results of their constructed models. This is an important feature, as it provides with opportunities of revisiting the model, revising it and re-implementing it. Kreutzer (1986) describes simulations to be used at a “prototheoretical stage, as a vehicle for thought experiments. The purpose of a model lies in the act if its construction and exploration, and in the resultant, improved intuition about the system’s behavior, essential aspects and sensitivities” (in Jacobson & Kozma, 2000, p. 7). It is supported that with scientific modeling, students can conduct scientific experiments and understand complex systems, based on their knowledge from prior experiences. The importance of using scientific modeling for understanding lies in the fact that learners can use their existing knowledge to conduct experiments and perform through them.