Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Models of conceptual understanding in human respiration and strategies for instruction

Mary Anne Rea-Ramirez, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Prior research has indicated that students of all ages show little understanding of respiration beyond breathing in and out and the need for air to survive. This occurs even after instruction with alternative conceptions persisting into adulthood. Whether this is due to specific educational strategies or to the level of difficulty in understanding a complex system is an important question. The purpose of this study was to obtain a deeper understanding of middle school students' development of mental models of human respiration. The study was composed of two major parts, one concerned with documenting and analyzing how students learn, and one concerned with measuring the effect of teaching strategies. This was carried out through a pre-test, "learning aloud" case studies in which students engaged in one-on-one tutoring interviews with the researcher, and a post-test. Transcript data from the intervention and post-test indicates that all students in this study were successful in constructing mental models of a complex concept, respiration, and in successfully applying these mental models to transfer problems. Differences in the pretest and posttest means were on the order of two standard deviations in size. While findings were uncovered in the use of a variety of strategies, possibly most interesting are the new views of analogies as an instructional strategy. Some analogies appear to be effective in supporting construction of visual/spatial features. Providing multiple, simple analogies that allow the student to construct new models in small steps, using student generated analogies, and using analogies to determine prior knowledge may also increase the effectiveness of analogies. Evidence suggested that students were able to extend the dynamic properties of certain analogies to the dynamics of the target conception and that this, in turn, allowed students to use the new models to explain causal relationships and give new function to models. This suggests that construction of causal, dynamic mental models is supported by the use of analogies containing dynamic and causal relationships.

Subject Area

Anatomy & physiology|Animals|Science education

Recommended Citation

Rea-Ramirez, Mary Anne, "Models of conceptual understanding in human respiration and strategies for instruction" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9909208.