The Scaffolding Framework (Quintana et al., 2004)

Even though there have been several frameworks in the past, that guide specific studies, and learning issues (e.g. Scardamalia and Breirer, 1991; Linn, & His, 2000, etc.), Quintana et al. developed a design framework to facilitate theoretical and empirical investigation of scaffolding approaches for software tools. Quintana et al. have collected a number of frameworks and studies around science inquiry that have been applied in the past and have used them for a meta-analysis of the content and the findings in order to propose a Scaffolding Framework that supports and facilitates science inquiry at any level of learning. Model-IT was one of those studies that illuminated the scaffolding framework around technology tools for scientific learning. In the Framework, technology becomes the tool that shapes how the learner perceives a task, how they understand it, and how they interact with the content. The Framework is organized around 3 areas that scaffold science inquiry: Sense Making, Process Management, and Articulation and Reflection.

The Scaffolding Framework is being supported by the model of cognitive apprenticeship that explains how other individuals facilitate the opportunities for learning and for the performance of complex tasks (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989b). Also, cognitive models that explore learning by doing practices inform the Framework around the nature of expertise and solving open-ended problems. The theories of social constructivism and situated cognition orient the Scaffolding Framework towards accounting situated activities and consider their social aspects (Lave & Wegner, 1991; Vygotsky, 1978).

The Scaffolding Framework identifies 3 elements that inform the scaffolding process:

  • the element of task model that encapsulates inquiry from the literature,
  • the element of obstacles, and
  • the element of the scaffolding guidelines

The following 7 Guidelines inform the strategies in the Framework that are related to Sense making, Process management, and Articulation and Reflection:

A. Scaffolding sense making:

Guideline 1: Use representations and language that bridges learners’ understanding (Figure 1)

Guideline 2: Organize tools and artifacts around the semantics of the discipline.

Guideline 3: Use representations that learners can inspect in different ways to reveal important properties of underlying data.

Figure 1: Model-It™ was used as one of the tools to define the characteristics of one of the strategies in Guideline 1; The use of the software can scaffold scientific understanding through representations and quantitative expressions with qualitative language.

B. Scaffolding process management:

Guideline 4: Provide structure for complex tasks and functionality (Figure 2)

Guideline 5: Embed expert guidance about scientific practices

Guideline 6: Automatically handle non-salient, routine tasks (Figure 3)


Figure 2: Model-It™ was used as a tool with features that provide structure for complex tasks. It scaffolds model planning, model building, and testing.

Figure 3: Model-It™ was one of the tools defining the features of the 6th guideline; it calculates variable values, given student-defined relationships, so that students can focus on understanding the overall behavior of their model.

C. Scaffolding articulation and reflection

Guideline 7: Facilitate ongoing articulation and reflection during investigation