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V. Van Staden, T. Chehore

Cape Peninsula University of Technology (SOUTH AFRICA)
Models are important mechanisms that teachers can use to help students make sense of what it is they are observing and to visualize abstract processes in science in order to gain deeper understanding of concepts and processes. The use of models in the teaching and learning of science has a special level of complexity due to their function in that they explain reality through theory. They demonstrate the constant and dynamic interplay of thoughts and actions in science and deal with students' previous knowledge by providing ways to build on their personal understanding of science (Justi and Gilbert, 1998). Thinking skills are associated with the use and making of models in science that include the recognition of similarity between model and real life object, assessment of limitations and strengths of the model, creativity when using drawings to acquire images to express an abstract idea or process and critical thinking when contextualizing the utilization and viability of the model in real life situations.

Life Sciences pre-service teachers are required to design teaching and learning models using locally available resources. The question that arises is do they have the necessary thinking skills, especially critical thinking skills that are required to design models. Critical thinking is an important prerequisite for investigation and construction of knowledge that eventually helps learners to make informed decisions about the relationship between science, technology and the environment. This research was carried out in order to assess the transferable skills of first year Life Sciences pre-service teachers at Cape Peninsula University of Technology, using a problem based learning approach. These are skills including critical thinking skills that can be used in various situations depending on the context. The students were given the theoretical background of the problem and the apparatus from which they could design the model. While constructing the model the students also had to recognize their own learning through self assessment. Besides thinking skills, team work, metacognition and reflective pratice were assessed in the process. These are some of the goals of higher education. The majority of students had difficulty in designing and visualizing a workable model compared to when they were provided with a design of what the actual model should look like. Coupled with this was the fact that in assessing themselves they did not have a clear understanding of where and when in the process of designing did they use their critical thinking skills. It can then be concluded that the students were not aware of the critical thinking skills or elements thereof that they possessed and if they did, they were not sure where to apply them.