Date of Award

Summer 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


Curriculum and Instruction

Committee Director

Daniel Dickerson

Committee Member

G. Richard Whittecar

Committee Member

Amy Adcock


Through a non-experimental descriptive and comparative mixed-methods approach, this study investigated the experiences of sixth grade earth science students with groundwater physical models through an extended SE learning cycle format. The data collection was based on a series of quantitative and qualitative research tools intended to investigate students' ideas and changes in ideas rather than measure their achievement. The measures included a groundwater survey, classroom observations, and one-on-one follow-up student interviews for triangulation of data sources. The research was carried out at a K-12 independent school in eastern Virginia using two classes of sixth grade earth science students (n=30).

The findings suggest that physical models help students identify the components porosity and permeability with respect to water flow in groundwater systems. Higher levels of system thinking were best demonstrated in model components that allowed students to experience groundwater pollution activities and pumping groundwater wells. However, the results also indicated that due to model constraints, students can develop misconceptions during the use of physical models, specifically more complex physical models as in the Groundwater Exploration Activity Model. A pure discovery learning format while using physical models without guidance or formative assessment probes can lead to misconceptions about groundwater processes as well as confusion between model attributes and real world groundwater systems.

The implications of this study relate directly to the inclusion of groundwater in the new national science standards released in 2011; A Framework for K-12 Science Standard; Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (NRC, 2011). The new national standards, as in other educational reform efforts, will have the ability to affect curricular and instructional strategies in science education. From the results of this study, it was concluded that best practices for using groundwater physical models in groundwater instruction should be through an inquiry based approach such as a 5E learning cycle, that includes both teacher guidance and feedback during model activities and incorporates an Express phase with extensive formative assessment probes for student reflection of their learning process.


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