Part 3: What to do?

Here are a few techniques recommended in the research literature for developing good mental models. Many, but not all, are summarised from earlier parts of this paper.

  • Allow students to work with concrete models and explicitly teach them how to form mental models from these.
  • Explicitly tell students whenever you present a conceptual model.
  • Explicitly teach students how to develop a conceptual model from a concrete model.
  • Explicitly teach students how to develop a mental model from a conceptual model.
  • Allow enough time for students to develop mental models. If a curriculum is too rushed, students will resort to memorizing procedures.
  • Use analogies (and/or narrative) to tap into existing, correct mental models to assist in correct formation of new mental models (for example, electricity flow can be taught as analogous to water flow through pipes).
  • Actively and purposefully employing imaginative skills may enhance mental modelling skills.
  • Design questions that force students to confront and address common contradictions and misconceptions.
  • Have students write conceptual explanations of topics, or verbally explain to peers. Require them to use picture language (e.g. diagrams, illustrations, analogies) and not simply list the steps in a procedure.