Combining systems thinking, model-based reasoning, and project-based learning to advance student agency, increase student engagement and understanding, and provide an authentic and accurate method of assessing student competencies in a high school aquatic science course
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Science elective courses for high school seniors provide an opportunity to engage students in rigorous, relevant instruction that requires students to employ a broad range of science knowledge and skills from previous courses toward real world problems with relevance to students’ current and future life experiences. The goal of this work is to provide teachers of high school science courses with a methodology for the introduction of strong STEM components into traditional science courses, particularly model eliciting activities, system dynamics, and engineering based design challenges. Employing these instructional methods in an aquatic science course produced an effective, engaging curriculum that increased students understanding of science content and provided students with the tools to analyze, evaluate and design solutions to real world problems. Teaching the concept of system dynamics early in the course gave students tools, including causal loop diagrams, to create useful models for analyzing interactions in complex systems. Student creation of such models proved an effective instructional method for teaching science content and the nature of scientific processes. Students displayed the ability to apply these techniques, once taught, to a diverse set of problems and expressed an intention to continue to use these skills both personally and professionally in the future. Having students create, analyze, and discuss their own models of complex systems provided the teacher with an effective method for both formative and summative assessment of student knowledge and comprehension. The models provided a more authentic and accurate evaluation of student knowledge and understanding than a written test or multiple choice response exam alone. Student use of software modeling tools, such as STELLA, can be added to these methods, providing students with the ability to add the concepts of rate and flow to their models.
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