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  • Writer's pictureNathan Belcher

Instructional Design for Science Teachers: Using the Idea of Mental Models to Drive Learning

This brief guide helps science teachers design instruction for maximum learning.


How does a teacher organize instruction to maximize student learning?

This question has been important for the entire time humans have taught each other:

  • Early humans learning survival skills;

  • Later humans learning a trade; and,

  • Current humans learning through courses.

Although people can learn on their own, learning is accelerated with the help of other people. However, the amount of learning changes depending on the instructional design, making the instructional design for learning important.

No matter the topic for learning, poor instructional design leads to confusion and minimal learning — whereas excellent instructional design leads to robust understanding and maximized learning.


As with every subject area in formal schooling in the United States, science education has evolved over the years:

  • First efforts were the creation of high schools in the late 1800s;

  • Next efforts were the work the scientists in the classroom in the 1950s; and,

  • Current efforts are the Next Generation Science Standards.

Each effort built on previous work, with the work representing the best thinking of the scientific and science education communities.

As a teacher with 10 years of experience — and an action research project on my teaching, leading to a Doctor of Education degree — I have experimented with different instructional designs. I have come to believe that instructional design flows from ideas about learning; without a fundamental idea of how humans learn, there can be no consistent instructional design.

This guide has three parts:

  • A discussion on idea of mental models as the foundation for learning.

  • A formal definition a scientific model for a concept.

  • An instructional design that uses models for concepts as the basis for instruction.

By following this guide in your science class, you will provide students with an opportunity to have a robust understanding of the concepts and maximize their learning.

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