An investigation of software scaffolds supporting modeling practices

Eric B. Fretz*, Hsin Kai Wu, Bao Hui Zhang, Elizabeth A. Davis, Joseph S. Krajcik, Elliot Soloway

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Citations (Scopus)


Modeling of complex systems and phenomena is of value in science learning and is increasingly emphasised as an important component of science teaching and learning. Modeling engages learners in desired pedagogical activities. These activities include practices such as planning, building, testing, analysing, and critiquing. Designing realistic models is a difficult task. Computer environments allow the creation of dynamic and even more complex models. One way of bringing the design of models within reach is through the use of scaffolds. Scaffolds are intentional assistance provided to learners from a variety of sources, allowing them to complete tasks that would otherwise be out of reach. Currently, our understanding of how scaffolds in software tools assist learners is incomplete. In this paper the scaffolds designed into a dynamic modeling software tool called Model-It are assessed in terms of their ability to support learners' use of modeling practices. Four pairs of middle school students were video-taped as they used the modeling software for three hours, spread over a two week time frame. Detailed analysis of coded videotape transcripts provided evidence of the importance of scaffolds in supporting the use of modeling practices. Learners used a variety of modeling practices, the majority of which occurred in conjunction with scaffolds. The use of three tool scaffolds was assessed as directly as possible, and these scaffolds were seen to support a variety of modeling practices. An argument is made for the continued empirical validation of types and instances of tool scaffolds, and further investigation of the important role of teacher and peer scaffolding in the use of scaffolded tools.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)567-589
Number of pages23
JournalResearch in Science Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Modeling practices
  • Modeling software
  • Scaffolding
  • Scaffolds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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