ASSESSING THE COGNITIVE PROCESSES OF STUDENTS DURING MODELING: TWO DIFFERENT MODELING TOOLS
Learning by constructing models denotes the process through which learners construct and use scientific models aiming at the construction of explanations about complex systems or natural phenomena. The purpose of the present research relates to the investigation of the cognitive processes in which students are engaged when co-constructing scientific models.
The study involved 31 high-school learners (Class A=17, Class B=14 students) who worked in small groups. We developed an intervention which called students to construct successive models of simple systems related to heat and temperature. The duration (7Χ90΄), the content, the teacher and the teaching approach of the intervention was the same for the two classes. The only difference concerned the software used by students to construct models (Modellus, Dynalearn). From each class we randomly selected two groups of students, the work and discussions of whom were videotaped. To analyse these data we used the coding scheme of Sins et al. (2009), who propose that that the cognitive processes in which students are engaged during modeling are: analyse, quantify, inductive reasoning, explain and evaluate.
Analysis of students’ discussions and work indicated that:
(a) students who used the same modeling tool seem to be engaged in the specific cognitive processes in the same way/order. For example, the two groups using DynaLearn modeling tool were engaged in the cognitive process of inductive reasoning for more time comparing to the other cognitive processes. Additionally, both of these groups were less engaged in the cognitive process of quantifying. In a similar manner, the students of both groups using Modellus for constructing models were discussing the quantitative relations of the model variables (quantify) much more than being engaged in any of the other cognitive processes. For both of these groups the less enacted cognitive process was inductive reasoning.
(b) Students working with DynaLearn were more engaged in the cognitive process of inductive reasoning while those using Modellus were engaged in the cognitive process “quantify”. There is a possibility that this differentiation exists due to the different logic used by the two modeling tools. DynaLearn allows the user to develop models by constructing mainly qualitative (analogical) relations and only limited quantitative relations, while Modellus is used for computational modeling by allowing an easy and intuitive creation of mathematical models using standard mathematical notation. As a result, students who use the former tool spend more of their time to construct and use relationships between entities and variables which students who used the latter spend more of their time to construct mathematical equations and relations between variables.
In conclusion, it seems that the modeling tool used by students to construct and use models leads their cognitive efforts in different cognitive pathways and therefore the choice of the tool is of primary importance when modeling based learning interventions are developed and implemented.
 Sins, P. H. M., Savelsbergh, E. R., van Joolingen, W. R., & van Hout-Wolters, B. H. A. M. (2009). The Relation between Students' Epistemological Understanding of Computer Models and their Cognitive Processing on a Modelling Task. International Journal of Science Education, 31(9), 1205 - 1229.