Collaborative Research: Bridging between Tabletop Models and the Earth System

Lead PI: Kim Anne Kastens

Unit Affiliation: Marine and Polar Geophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

September 2009 - June 2013
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: The three-year project tackles the important problem of the difficulty of conducting hands-on activities for 8th and 9th grade Earth Science classrooms. The PIs take the approach of using tabletop models as analogs for the phenomena the curriculum is trying to elucidate. The project investigates how students apply insights gained from working with dynamic tabletop modules to understanding and reasoning about processes of the full scale Earth system.

Working with 300 students and four teachers in New York City schools, the researchers test three instructional strategies in terms of the usefulness and pitfalls of each. The PIs develop written assessments using evidence-centered design principles that examine students' understanding of model attributes, model/Earth attribute correspondences, model relationships, model/Earth relationship correspondences, and geoscience data/evidence.

The PIs collect student demographic data using t-tests and multiple regression analysis. They also collect student demographic data and qualitative measures to describe how the instructional strategies were enacted across classrooms and to understnd the ways in which teachers should be supported to utilize these strategies effectively.

OUTCOMES: Teachers have been recruited, tabletop models have been developed, interviewed students, and gave post-tests. One journal and one book published.


National Science Foundation (NSF)




Columbia University Teachers CollegeĀ 


Nyack School District, Bedford School District, South Orangetown School District, Mt Vernon Central School District



Rivet, A. E., & Kastens, K. A.. "Developing a construct-based assessment to examine students' analogical reasoning around physical models in Earth Science," Journal of Research in Science Education, v.49, 2012, p. 713.


education tabletop models natural systems earth science