The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

A Situated Model Building Approach (SIMBA) for Mental Models in Chemistry Education

Rüdiger Tiemann, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany)


Learning chemistry differs from learning other natural sciences. Nearly all explanations in chemistry involve the re-arrangements and interactions of particles. Phenomena - a rusting bicycle or a cup of tea changing color after the addition of lemon juice – and their inherent processes lead to mental models. The students’ knowledge about the phenomenon and the circumstances of the situation in which the phenomenon occurs influences the mental model. In fact, it can explain why, in the same learning environment, two students learn in different ways. Starting from Lesh, Hoover, Hole and Post [1] and Runesson’s theory of variation [2], the paper presents SIMBA, an approach to (1) identify more uniform categories (“building blocks”) for describing mental models, and in consequence (2) possibilities to foster learning in these categories. SIMBA, with its "building blocks," provides a framework for getting clues about students' comprehension difficulties. In addition, the teacher might formulate targeted assistance on the basis of the "building blocks". In case a student cannot formulate a scientific question or hypothesis after observing a phenomenon, the teacher asks for its components and thus guides the student to the scientific question. The SIMBA approach does not fully describe mental models for scientific inquiry, but recent qualitative (N=33) and quantitative studies (N=524) have proven its practical usefulness for chemistry education research. The talk presents the approach in detail and discusses it against the background of empirical data.

Keywords: Chemistry Education, Mental Model, Scientific Inquiry, Problem Solving.


  1. Lesh, R. A., Hoover, M., Hole, B., Kelly, A. & Post, T. (2000). Principles for Developing Thought-Revealing Activities for Students and Teachers. In A. Kelly & R. A. Lesh (Eds.), Handbook of Research Design in Mathematics and Science Education (p. 591-646). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  2. Runesson, U. (2005). Beyond discourse and interaction. Variation: a critical aspect for teaching and learning mathematics, Cambridge Journal of Education 35(1), (69-87) DOI: 10.1018/0305764042000332506…

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