Developing Modelling Competence of Pre-service Science Teachers
: Meta-modelling knowledge, Modelling practice, and Modelling product

  • Song Xue

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


There has been increased attention recently on model and modelling within the global science education field. Research has begun to skew towards a competence-based perspective of models and modelling, as teachers are experiencing challenges and do not have the required competence in modelling from either theoretical or empirical perspectives. This study aimed to use a theoretical framework to design teaching interventions which assessed the modelling competence of pre-service science teachers. The study focused on modelling competence in three components: meta-modelling knowledge, modelling practices, and modelling products.

An intervention design was used over a period of seven weeks in the teaching sessions of 38 pre-service science teachers (PST, intervention group) within a science teacher education programme in an opportunistically selected university in China. This was compared to 38 in-service teachers (IST) who received no intervention (comparison group). The performance of both sets of teachers during pre, post, and follow-up tests used a Likert scale questionnaire, semi-structured interviews, a Black Box modelling task, PSTs’ reflective journals, lesson plans, and classroom observations in reflective field notes. Multiple data were triangulated by mix methods. In quantitative analysis, both descriptive and statistical analysis with parametric and non-parametric analysis were applied. A qualitative content analysis approach was used to analysis qualitative data.

Results showed the ISTs outperformed the PSTs in meta-modelling knowledge prior to the teaching intervention, and that they had an almost equal level in modelling practices and products. However, PSTs showed a greater and statistically significant improvement in the three components of modelling competence after receiving the intervention. Additional high-level practices and products were found in the PST group, but not in the IST group. Typically, both groups’ modelling patterns (experimental modelling and expressive modelling) could not be easily changed by teaching interventions. In addition, practices and products were positively related, but no relationships were found between meta-modelling knowledge and the other two. Some teaching activities had a positive effect, while some elements presented a challenge in the development of modelling competence.

The study proposed a theoretical framework of modelling competence with three components. The positive effectiveness of the teaching interventions was confirmed. This study has implications for both policy and practice, for teacher pre-service education as well as for the professional development of in-service teachers. More research is needed into the assessment of process-oriented modelling practices, and the investigation of the development of modelling patterns related to different science teachers' practices in different modelling-based contexts.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKeith Topping (Supervisor) & Liz Lakin (Supervisor)


  • Model and modelling
  • Science education
  • Teacher education
  • Mixed methods

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