Chapter 8 - Modeling with Technology
  • Learning by Building Models

Models are conceptual systems consisting of elements, relations, operations, and rules that are used to construct, describe, or explain the behaviour of systems. Comparing and evaluating multiple models leads to increased understanding of the observed system, which in turn leads to the development of other, more accurate models. The models built with technology are considered external models. These external models arise from the more abstract internal models, also called mental representations. Internal models can be externalized with computer-based Mindtools, including databases, concept mapping, spreadsheets and microworlds. These Mindtools helps students think in a different way, and allows them to further expand their knowledge on the given concept or system. Modeling is especially helpful for students in math and science classes, as it helps them to visualize quantitative data, such as equations. By visualizing more abstract concepts, students are better able to understand the nature of what their studying. Different Mindtools represent information in different ways. Using multiple Mindtools for one subject is a great way to integrate technology in the classroom, because the more ways that
students can represent their conceptual understanding, the more they will understand.

Benefits of Building Models:
. Helps to cognitively construct personal theories.
. Building constructivist points of view.
. Supports hypothesis testing.
. Engages conceptual change.
. Develops externalizing skills.
. Building ownership of the knowledge.

Helpful Resources:
. Concept mapping:
. Online databases/Search engines:
. Microworlds:

  • Modeling Knowledge with Concept Maps

At times, it is difficult to put down on paper thoughts running through our mind. Thus, for visual learners, using the computer to create concept maps can allow them to have a better visual understanding of the relationship between concepts. Concept Maps are visual mind tools of the ideas an individual has in mind, and allow them to represent their thoughts into a structured Concept Map where they can see the relationship among the ideas. The focal point of the Concept Map is the ability to recognize the connection among the concepts. If one is unable to understand the relationship between ideas, then they have failed to understand the purpose of Concept Maps. Various softwares such as Semantica, Inspiration, and MindMeister can aid and guide individuals in understanding the function of Concept Maps, and how to build one. Concept Maps allow pupils to acquire new skills, such as being creative and critical thinkers, and knowing to work with others in a group.

Benefits of Using Concept Maps:
. Allow for better visual understanding.
. Enhance ability to recognize the connection among concepts.

Helpful Resources:
. Semantica:
. Inspiration:
. MindMeister:

  • Modeling with Spreadsheets

By definition, a spreadsheet is a grid of empty cells, with columns identified by letters and rows identified by numbers, a ledger sheet spread in front of the user. The students could put numbers, letters or equations in the cells and create formulas to change the numeric contents of any other cells.


Students use many different mental processes in order to use spreadsheets properly. It requires the students to use rules that already exist, for them to create new rules and allow them to discover new ways of ordering and organizing information in the cells. When the students create their own formulas and rules they become the “rule makers.” There are many ways that using spreadsheets can help the learner. One of the most obvious ways is to help students better comprehend mathematics. The second way, is to organize data. Students can conduct a survey and then insert their findings into the organized cells to find formulas and results. To conclude, the main function of spreadsheets is to construct simulations and models of ideas and problems. Spreadsheets can also aid students in calculating any sort of quantitative information. Having students construct simulations, formulas, or just organizing data engages them more than simply using simulations that teachers develop.

Benefits of Using Spreadsheets:
. Can be used to organize information
. Can be used to make calculations
. Can be used to present information in an orderly fashion
. Teaches students how to think differently

Helpful Resources:
. Excel:

  • Modeling Experiences with Databases

A database management system is one of the new ways of storing information and being able to keep it. Rather then having millions of papers in storage, this database system replaces it by keeping everything in an “electronic filled cabinet” in an organized fashion. Not only can you store and retrieve the information in this format, but also you can manipulate and change it as needed. Databases entail one or multiple files filled with information and records that relate to a specific domain, event or set of objects. While each record is subdivided into many different compartments known as “fields” that contain a subdivision of information. These are subunits of each record that describe a common pattern of information.These databases convey information in “matrix form”, and students must learn to do so when they model phenomena with DBSMs, in addition to learning how to integrate and interrelate content and ideas into these matrices. Matrices are a form of presenting information that contains comparison and contrasting stories of people and their experiences. Students are engaging and expanding their knowledge to learn more meaningfully. Students can engage in a form of ethnography. By collecting stories from other people’s experiences, you can build this and form indexes and store them. The indexes make up fields in the databases. This form of learning allows students to understand the underlying complexity of any phenomenon in terms of the diverse social, cultural, political and personal perspectives reflected in the stories.

Benefits of Using Databases:
. Can obtain specific information quickly.
. Helps students interrelate content and ideas.

Helpful Resources:

  • References

Howland,J.L., Jonassen, D., Marra, R.M. (2012). Meaningful Learning With Technology: Fourth Edition. Boston, MA: Prentice Hall.