Cynthia Passmore – Hugo Rossi Lecture (Feb 2)

<<Hugo Rossi Lecture Series

Learning about versus figuring out: Engaging students in the practice of modeling in the science classroom

Cynthia Passmore – University of California, Davis

February 2, 2017

Co-hosted by CSME and the College of Education


In America’s diverse classrooms, teachers of science are being asked to attend to and foster student reasoning in more rigorous ways, and the teacher-centered, didactic classroom with a focus on memorization that has long been derided in science education is being pushed aside even more fervently. The new vision for science education laid out in the 2011 NRC Framework places the doing and the knowing of science on equal footing and positions them as mutually reinforcing intellectual pursuits. This vision for science education is built off of decades of work on how to engage students in meaningful science learning. Based on emerging views of student learning and more updated views of the scientific enterprise, teachers are now being asked to create classrooms that are inclusive and intellectually expansive spaces: classrooms where students are the agents of their own learning and the teacher acts as a guide, carefully choosing experiences, investigations and analytic approaches that will bring students into making sense of the natural world by developing models and explanations. No longer is it enough for students to merely have mastered a long list of declarative facts. Instead, based on what we know about learning more broadly, we want students to develop ideas in the context of using them to explain the world, to transition from merely knowing about the science ideas to figuring them out in the face of puzzling phenomena. In other words, the 21st century classroom should no longer be governed by a simple, transmissionist model of learning where teachers see their jobs as being fundamentally about getting the knowledge out of their own heads and into the heads of the students. In my work, I instantiate these ideas in curriculum and teacher professional development using the practice of modeling as an anchor. In this talk I will provide the empirical and theoretical justification for this approach and exemplify it by describing the tools we use to design curriculum in K-12 settings and by showing video excerpts from classrooms.


Cynthia Passmore is currently a Professor specializing in science education in the University of California, Davis School of Education. She did her doctoral work at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and prior to that she was a high school science teacher. Her research focuses on the role of models and modeling in student learning, curriculum design and teacher professional development. She investigates model-based reasoning in a range of contexts and is particularly interested in understanding how the design of learning environments interacts with students’ reasoning practices. She has been the principal investigator of several large grants and has co-authored papers on modeling in science education that have been published in journals such as the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Science & Education, The International Journal of Science Education and School Science and Mathematics. Her most recent publication is the edited volume: Helping Students Make Sense of the World Using Next Generation Science and Engineering Practices from NSTA press.