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  • Writer's pictureJames Kerr

My Learning Self Reflection

Updated: Aug 1, 2019

In The Beginning

After 25 years in the classroom, it is an interesting personal challenge to consider which learning theories have informed my practice. At first blush it is easy to state that my first years of instruction in Physics and Physical Science were mostly about survival and learning how to manage a classroom. In this arena, there was little time for experimentation, and I practiced what I had learned from my high school teachers. Behaviorism works. The approach is concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviors, and states all behaviors are learned through interaction with the environment. Behaviorism emphasizes the role of environmental factors in influencing behavior, to the near exclusion of innate or inherited factors. Humans learn new behavior through classical or operant conditioning (Saul McCleod ,2017).

"Behaviorism equates learning with changes in either the form or frequency of observable performance. Learning is accomplished when a proper response is demonstrated following the presentation of a specific environmental stimulus. Of primary concern is how the association between the stimulus and response is made, strengthened, and maintained. Behaviorism focuses on the importance of the consequences of those performances and contends that responses that are followed by reinforcement are more likely to recur in the future. No attempt is made to determine the structure of a student’s knowledge nor to assess which mental processes it is necessary for them to use

(Winn, 1990). The learner is characterized as being reactive to conditions in the environment as opposed to taking an active role in discovering the environment. (pg. 48)

The awarding of behaviors that I expected and approved was accompanied by a limited use of negative reinforcement for alternative behaviors. My school district provided a progression of steps that represented the established discipline plan. I found that positive reinforcement worked best to encourage voluntary student participation and to create a feeling of safety for them in my classroom environment. Negative reinforcement, punishment for unwanted student behavior, was limited for occasions when individual student behavior interfered with everyone's opportunity to learn. For many years, I lectured, provided prefabricated labs, and selected a host of content-related problems for students to solve. Students were rewarded with points for completion of assignments. Tests revealed acquired student skill at accessing short term memory. Students were rewarded for scoring well on tests. Basically, I was embracing successful regurgitation of facts, and for many years I thought that this repetitive discipline represented excellent use of the student time and energy.

Gaining Ground

The change came suddenly. I attended a two week summer workshop on Modeling in Physics at Bowling Green State University. I realized that the pedagogy that I had embraced for years was not teaching my students to think about Physics. I was introduced to the research by Dr. David Hestenes of Arizona State University on Modeling Theory and Modeling Instruction in Physics. Modeling Theory is based in part in Cognitive Theory. (Jonassen,1991b). "Learning is equated with discrete changes between states of knowledge rather than with changes in the probability of response. Cognitive theories focus on the conceptualization of students’ learning processes and address the issues of how information is received, organized, stored, and retrieved by the mind. Learning is concerned not so much with what learners do but with what they know and how they come to acquire it." (pg .6)

Knowledge acquisition is described as a mental activity that involves internal coding and structuring by the learner. The learner is considered as a very active participant in the learning process. (Ertmann & Newby 2013) The Modeling Theory of Cognition also uses the ideas of Constructivism. Unlike Behaviorist Theory, concerned with what learners do, Cognitive Theory studies what learners know and how they come to acquire knowledge."The philosophical assumptions underlying both the behavioral and cognitive theories are primarily objectivistic; that is: the world is real, external to the learner. The goal of instruction is to map the structure of the world onto the learner." (Jonassen,1991b pg.12). A number of contemporary cognitive theorists have begun to question this basic objectivistic assumption and are starting to adopt a more constructivist approach to learning and understanding. In Constructivism, knowledge is a function of how the individual creates meaning from his or her own experiences. Constructivism has roots in the philosophical and psychological viewpoints specifically in the works of Piaget, Bruner, and Goodman.

Modeling Theory focuses the construction of information into models, leading to the learning cycle in Modeling Instruction. Students collect or are given data for a particular topic. From there, students organize the information into their initial mental model. Through discussion and application, students refine their mental model to account for new information, forming a "conceptual model". If the information cannot be adequately explained by the refined model, students begin the process again.

How does Modeling Instruction look in my Physics classroom? The pedagogy is student centered, engaging learners in active interactions. Instruction is organized into modeling cycles. The first step of the cycle focuses the construction of information into mental models, leading into the learning cycle. Through discussion and application, students refine their mental model based on observation and recorded data to account for new information. If the information cannot be adequately explained by the refined model, students begin the process again, creating restructured models to describe, explain, predict, design, and control physical phenomena. (Wells and Hestenes, 1994) Students utilize computers as scientific tools for collecting, organizing, analyzing, visualizing, and modeling real data. Observed and measurable relationships become the source for models created and shared on white boards by small student groups. Members of the small group discuss how data will be organized on the whiteboard and prepare to defend their models to in a larger "white board meeting", where each student group defends their models to their peers. Open discussion follows. Based on these interactions, the small group models are continuously revised until all members of a group are convinced of the accuracy of the model. The final model is then deployed in the next stage of the learning cycle. Students apply their revised model to new situations to refine and deepen their understanding. Students work on challenging worksheet problems in small groups, and then present and defend their results to the class for discussion. This stage of the cycle also may includes quizzes, tests, and lab practicums. As students practice this process, they are developing both cognitive skills and constructive skills. The process requires the students to actively integrate, process and learn new knowledge using math skills, graphing skills, verbal skills and motion models. As the teacher and moderator, I may choose to interact in the white board meetings using Socratic questioning to probe student misconceptions as well as student developing understanding.

At the onset of instruction, students take an FCI (Force Concept Inventory) assessment before instruction begins. The test establishes a baseline to measure cognitive skills based on classic concepts in Newtonian Physics. The FCI employs everyday language and common-sense distractors. The test is administered again at the the end of the modeling instructional sequence as a measure for cognitive growth.

Modeling Instruction has been revolutionary for my practice. My students at the onset of the year are reticent and potentially frustrated as the responsibility for constructing and revising models passes to them. Fear of failure in front of peers provides obstacles to participation at first. Eventually, students fully embrace this learning environment. By the end of the year, they prefer the Modeling Instruction approach to instructional experiences in other science classrooms. The result is measurable improvement in the learning of Physics concepts.

Into The Future

Connectivism is defined as "actionable knowledge, where an understanding of where to find knowledge may be more important than answering how or what that knowledge encompasses" (Duke et al., 2013, p. 7). "Connectivism provides insight into learning skills and tasks that are needed for learners to flourish in a digital era" (Siemens, 2005).(Rank, 2019, pg 102) In a Modeling classroom, computers facilitate collaboration as well as discussion. The interactive technology supports collection, organization, analysis, visualization, and modeling of real data. Physics teachers today are supported by continually evolving educational technology. I take advantage of the updated resources by sharing the new exploratory tools with my students. Through the use of these improving technologies, my students can share their models with each other. They can also interact with an international audience, extending the model making discussion far beyond the limits of the classroom walls. From a learner-centered teaching perspective, Connectivism provides opportunities for students to make choices about their learning. Connectivism promotes collaboration and discussion. The educational technologies allow for different viewpoints and perspectives to aid in problem-solving, decision-making, and making sense of information in our Modeling Physics classroom. Dr. Robert MacDuff, whose interests include Cognitive Instruction in Modeling Physics (CIMT), proposed an unintended consequence for the increased use of Internet technologies in a recent post, (personal communication July 25, 2019), "I believe modeling as a pedagogy has a limited life span as your kids are becoming more and more flat screened. Their real world experience base is rapidly shrinking".

This observation underscores the need for further research concerning how technology may potentially undermine or diminish the successful use of Modeling Instruction as a pedagogical choice.

As a local trailblazer for educational reform at my district, I share why Modeling Instruction has become my pedagogy of choice. With each new opus of Physics students, I will be seeking and sharing new apps and kits that support and encourage the classroom learning experience. As the most aged member of my science department, I enjoy a unique position to inspire and infuse the use of new technology though collaboration with my less experienced peers. My current research is based on the successful implementation of Modeling Theory and Modeling Instruction in secondary Physics classrooms. My students have embraced this vibrant classroom learning environment. They are providing evidence in FCI scores of impressive progress in their understanding of basic Physics concepts. As I go forward, I will be recruiting my peers to design their instruction informed by a TPACK perspective, considering the potential for use of Modeling Instruction pedagogy to deliver content while skillfully melding new technologies into their practice.


Duke, B., G., Harper G, and Johnston M., "Connectivism as a digital age learning theory.", The International HETL Review, pp. 4-13.

Ertmer, P.A., Newby, T.J.,"Behaviorism, (1993), Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective", Performance Improvement Quarterly, Volume 6, Number 4, pp. 43-63..

Jonassen, D. H., (1991b), "Objectivism vs constructivism: Do we need a new philosophical paradigm", Educational Technology Research and Development, Volume 39,

Issue 3, pp. 5-14.

McCleod, S., (2017),"Behaviorist Approach", Simply Psychology, retrieved from

Perkins, D. N., (1991), Educational Technology, Technology meets constructivism: Do they make a marriage? vol. 62, no. 1, 2018, Educational Technology, 1991, vol 31, no 5,

pp. 18-23..

Rank, P., (2018), "Using Connectivism Theory in the Classroom", NACTA Journal, vol. 62,

no.1, pg. 102-103.

Siemens, G., (2005),"Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age", International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, vol. 2, no. 1, pg. 1-8.

Wells, M., D. Hestenes, (1995), "A modeling method for high school physics instruction", American Journal of Physics, Volume 63, Issue 7, pp. 606-619.

Winn, W., (1990), "Some implications of cognitive theory for instructional design", Instructional Science, vol. 19, pg. 53-69.

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