C. Vasconcelos1, J. Faria2, A. Almeida3, L. Dourado4

1Oporto University, Faculty of Sciences, Center of Geology (PORTUGAL)
2University of Minho, School of Sciences (PORTUGAL)
3Lisbon School of Education / Center of Geology of Oporto University (PORTUGAL)
4University of Minho, Institute of Education (PORTUGAL)
Models and modeling activities play a central role in making and understanding science (Danusso, Testa, and Vicentini 2010), making science learning more meaningful and helping students to build appropriate mental models (Justi and Gilbert 2002; Oh and Oh 2011). When students learn with models they can build mental models that are more consistent with scientific models. This reconstruction process is generally complex and it generates many cognitive conflicts.

It was only in the early XIXth century, when J. Hall (1761-1832) resorted to models to corroborate plutonism, that geology, an eminent field science, became a laboratory science. Within the years, these models became dimensioned with rules of proportionality acquiring the status of representative of natural phenomenon. For the last 30 years experimental modeling has been a subject of fruitful research, mainly using the classic tectonic “sandbox” models to control parameters for the structural evolution of mountain belts (Graveleau et al., 2012). However, it was with educational purposes that models were integrated in geoscience textbooks and, hidden by the educational aims, many mandatory analogue properties required for research purposes, were forgotten. In fact, many of those modeling activities didn’t resort to analogue materials with similar reologic properties nor respected the dynamics, kinematics and geometric similarities. The fact is that to respect the similarity rules is a difficult, time-consuming and expensive process that, for some educational purposes, may not be justified.

However, it is necessary that teachers and textbooks have correct information regarding modeling activities and the kind of analogy they provide. The reduction of time and of space that is underlying in those geoscience lab activities, as well as the heuristic rule of the models used in geoscience classrooms, need to be well explained to students. Thus, it is worthwhile analyzing the modeling activities in geoscience textbooks, in order to evaluate their nature and whether or not the syllabus recommendations can be attained. To do so, an instrument for the analyzing model activities of geoscience textbooks was developed guarantying a reliable, comprehensive and systematic study. After consulting some items and questions posed by other instruments to analyze lab activities, as well as information taken from the literature review, a first version of the checklist was developed. It had three main dimensions that were considered relevant: type of lab activity; type of manipulation of variables; type of models. All three dimensions include a few sub-dimensions still further specified. As in other studies (Leite, 2002), the sub-dimensions emerged from the literature and also from our knowledge about how lab modeling activities are dealt with in science textbooks. The process used to analyze the 35 lab activities in three geoscience textbooks was carefully undertaken by four researchers in two rounds. The results of the first round where disseminated through all researchers in order to promote reflection and an improvement of the checklist. A consensus was established after the second round, applied 1 month after the end of the first analysis. Although done with Portuguese textbooks, the checklist can serve as a referent for doing more comprehensive and meaningful analyses of other textbooks in other countries, a task that can be regarded as a follow up study to increase its validity.