This study first used a new approach, combining students' ontological beliefs and process explanations, to represent students' mental models of heat conduction and then examined the relationships between their mental models and their predictions. Clinical interviews were conducted to probe 30 undergraduate physics students' mental models and their predictions about heat conduction. This study adopted a constant comparative method to discover patterns of the participants' responses across the various sources of data, such as verbal utterances, writings, and drawings. The results indicate that, based on the identified five process analogies for how heat is conducted and three ontological beliefs about the material basis for heat conduction, the combinations of these two aspects can better represent their mental models in terms of both the underlying mechanisms and emergent processes of heat conduction than using either alone as has sometimes been done in prior research. In addition, while a scientifically accepted mental model had a better chance to be accompanied by a correct prediction, a correct prediction might not result from a scientifically accepted mental model. However, as suggested by some cognitive psychologists, regardless of which mental models the participants possessed, they tended to automatically retrieve their learned rules or past experience, instead of manipulating their mental models, to generate predictions for the encountered problems.
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