One issue facing teachers who implement model-based instruction within the school system is the tight curricular schedule. The ‘lesson objective tension’ calls for investigations to address instructional issues such as how to organise modelling-based instruction at the curriculum level which is across multiple units. We investigated the effect of the cyclic curricular design spacing out three modelling-based instruction units with virtual labs over three semesters, each involving 73, 181, and 150 junior high school students, respectively. Results indicate that, overall, the approach of modelling with virtual labs better promoted students’ scientific literacy than the traditional instruction did. Specifically, students with low and moderate school science achievements benefitted more as shown in their scientific literacy scores than did the high achievement students. Furthermore, this study found that receiving one unit of modelling-based instruction may not be sufficient to promote students’ scientific literacy, whereas the cyclic approach that suggests students receive two or more units of modelling-based instruction with virtual labs spaced over consecutive semesters had significant effects on promoting students’ scientific literacy. The results provide insights into when and how modelling-based learning with virtual labs can promote scientific literacy at a curricular level.
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