High school science instruction, Intelligent Tutoring System, Model construction
A common hypothesis is that students will more deeply understand dynamic systems and other complex phenomena if they construct computational models of them. Attempts to demonstrate the advantages of model construction have been stymied by the long time required for students to acquire skill in model construction. In order to make model construction a feasible vehicle for science instruction, the Dragoon system combined three simplifications: (1) a simple notation for models of dynamic systems, (2) a step-based tutoring system, and (3) problems that described the model to be constructed as well as the system represented by the model. In order to test whether these simplifications reduced the time for learning how to construct models while preserving the benefits of model construction over baseline instruction, three classroom studies were conducted. All studies were experiments, in that they compared classes using Dragoon to classes learning the same material without Dragoon. However, as classroom studies, they could not tightly control all sources of variation. The first study produced null results, but it compared learning across just one class period. The second study in 4 high school science classes showed that instruction based on Dragoon cost only one extra class period (about 50 min) out of 4 class periods and was more effective than the same content taught without Dragoon. A third study in 3 more high school science classes, where 2 Dragoon classes and 1 non-Dragoon class met for the same number of class periods, showed that Dragoon was more effective than the same content taught without Dragoon. The effect sizes were moderately large on both an open response test (d = 1.00) and a concept mapping task (d = 0.49). Thus, it appears that our efforts have simplified model construction to the point that it can be used in science instruction with no additional class time needed, and yet it still seems to be more effective than the same instruction done without model construction.